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Open Access Research article

Pathways into homelessness: recently homeless adults problems and service use before and after becoming homeless in Amsterdam

Igor R van Laere1*, Matty A de Wit1 and Niek S Klazinga12

Author affiliations

1 GGD Municipal Public Health Service, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, Department of Social Medicine, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2009, 9:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-3

Published: 7 January 2009

Abstract

Background

To improve homelessness prevention practice, we met with recently homeless adults, to explore their pathways into homelessness, problems and service use, before and after becoming homeless.

Methods

Recently homeless adults (last housing lost up to two years ago and legally staying in the Netherlands) were sampled in the streets, day centres and overnight shelters in Amsterdam. In April and May 2004, students conducted interviews and collected data on demographics, self reported pathways into homelessness, social and medical problems, and service use, before and after becoming homeless.

Results

among 120 recently homeless adults, (male 88%, Dutch 50%, average age 38 years, mean duration of homelessness 23 weeks), the main reported pathways into homelessness were evictions 38%, relationship problems 35%, prison 6% and other reasons 22%. Compared to the relationship group, the eviction group was slightly older (average age 39.6 versus 35.5 years; p = 0.08), belonged more often to a migrant group (p = 0.025), and reported more living single (p < 0,001), more financial debts (p = 0.009), more alcohol problems (p = 0.048) and more contacts with debt control services (p = 0.009). The relationship group reported more domestic conflicts (p < 0.001) and tended to report more drug (cocaine) problems. Before homelessness, in the total group, contacts with any social service were 38% and with any medical service 27%. Despite these contacts they did not keep their house. During homelessness only contacts with social work and benefit agencies increased, contacts with medical services remained low.

Conclusion

the recently homeless fit the overall profile of the homeless population in Amsterdam: single (Dutch) men, around 40 years, with a mix of financial debts, addiction, mental and/or physical health problems. Contacts with services were fragmented and did not prevent homelessness. For homelessness prevention, systematic and outreach social medical care before and during homelessness should be provided.