Variability in comorbidites and health services use across homeless typologies: multicenter data linkage between healthcare and homeless systems

William E. Trick*, Fred Rachman, Keiki Hinami, Jennifer C. Hill, Craig Conover, Lisa Diep, Howard S. Gordon, Abel Kho, David O. Meltzer, Raj C. Shah, Ed Stellon, Padma Thangaraj, Peter S. Toepfer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Homelessness is associated with substantial morbidity. Data linkages between homeless and health systems are important to understand unique needs across homeless populations, identify homeless individuals not registered in homeless databases, quantify the impact of housing services on health-system use, and motivate health systems and payers to contribute to housing solutions. Methods: We performed a cross-sectional survey including six health systems and two Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) in Cook County, Illinois. We performed privacy-preserving record linkage to identify homelessness through HMIS or ICD-10 codes captured in electronic medical records. We measured the prevalence of health conditions and health-services use across the following typologies: housing-service utilizers stratified by service provided (stable, stable plus unstable, unstable) and non-utilizers (i.e., homelessness identified through diagnosis codes—without receipt of housing services). Results: Among 11,447 homeless recipients of healthcare, nearly 1 in 5 were identified by ICD10 code alone without recorded homeless services (n = 2177; 19%). Almost half received homeless services that did not include stable housing (n = 5444; 48%), followed by stable housing (n = 3017; 26%), then receipt of both stable and unstable services (n = 809; 7%). Setting stable housing recipients as the referent group, we found a stepwise increase in behavioral-health conditions from stable housing to those known as homeless solely by health systems. Compared to those in stable housing, prevalence rate ratios (PRR) for those without homeless services were as follows: depression (PRR = 2.2; 95% CI 1.9 to 2.5), anxiety (PRR = 2.5; 95% CI 2.1 to 3.0), schizophrenia (PRR = 3.3; 95% CI 2.7 to 4.0), and alcohol-use disorder (PRR = 4.4; 95% CI 3.6 to 5.3). Homeless individuals who had not received housing services relied on emergency departments for healthcare—nearly 3 of 4 visited at least one and many (24%) visited multiple. Conclusions: Differences in behavioral-health conditions and health-system use across homeless typologies highlight the particularly high burden among homeless who are disconnected from homeless services. Fragmented and high use of emergency departments for care should motivate health systems and payers to promote housing solutions, especially those that incorporate substance use and mental health treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number917
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Behavioral health
  • Health services use
  • Homelessness
  • Mental health
  • Privacy-preserving record linkage
  • Substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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