After Massachusetts changed its
eligibility criterion for homeless families seeking emergency shelter in 2012,
an influx of children began to show up in emergency departments – many without
medical problems. In the November 2018 issue of Pediatrics, a study, “Pediatric Emergency Department Visits for Homelessness After Shelter Eligibility Policy Change,” attributes
the change to a regulation that began requiring families to document homelessness.
One new means to do this was for Massachusetts families to prove that their
children had spent a night in a place “not meant for human habitation,” and
emergency departments are one of the locations that
met that description. The study, to be published online Oct. 15,
reviewed records of children age 18 and younger who arrived at an emergency
department between March 2010 and February 2016 because of homelessness.
Researchers found the overall rate of emergency department visits for
homelessness per month increased over four times compared to the period before
the policy change. Of the 312 emergency department visits for homelessness, 95
percent occurred after the 2012 policy change, and 65 percent of the children
had no medical complaint. The authors compare the average payment of emergency
department visit, at $557, to a night at an emergency assistance shelter, which
is about $117, and suggest that more effective policies be considered for
housing homeless families. AAP Past President Benard Dreyer, MD, weighs in on
the nation’s homeless crisis and the health impact on children in a solicited
commentary, “A Shelter is Not a Home: The Crisis of Family Homelessness in the United States,” to be published in the same issue.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds