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Open Access Research article

Shelter-based convalescence for homeless adults in Amsterdam: a descriptive study

Igor van Laere1*, Matty de Wit2 and Niek Klazinga3

Author Affiliations

1 Dr Valckenier Outreach Practice for Homeless People, GGD Municipal Public Health Service, PO Box 2200, 1000 CE Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Department of Epidemiology, Documentation and Health Promotion, GGD Municipal Public Health Service, PO Box 2200, 1000 CE Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 Department of Social Medicine, Academic Medical Centre, PO Box 22660, 1100 DD Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:208  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-208

Published: 18 November 2009

Abstract

Background

Adequate support for homeless populations includes shelter and care to recuperate from illness and/or injury. This is a descriptive analysis of diagnoses and use of shelter-based convalescence in a cohort of homeless adults in Amsterdam.

Methods

Demographics of ill homeless adults, diagnoses, referral pattern, length of stay, discharge locations, and mortality, were collected by treating physicians during outreach care provision in a shelter-based convalescence care facility in Amsterdam, from January 2001 through October 2007.

Results

629 individuals accounted for 889 admissions to the convalescence care facility. 83% were male and 53% were born in the Netherlands. The mean age was 45 years (SD 10 years). The primary physical problems were skin disorders (37%), respiratory disorders (33%), digestive disorders (24%) and musculoskeletal disorders (21%). Common chronic conditions included addictions 78%, mental health disorders 20%, HIV/AIDS 11% and liver cirrhosis 5%. Referral sources were self-referred (18%), general hospitals (21%) and drug clinics (27%). The median length of stay was 20 days. After (self)discharge, 63% went back to the previous circumstances, 10% obtained housing, and 23% went to a medical or nursing setting. By March 2008, one in seven users (n = 83; 13%) were known to have died, the Standard Mortality Ratio was 7.5 (95% CI: 4.1-13.5). Over the years, fewer men were admitted, with significantly more self neglect, personality disorders and cocaine use. Lengths of stay increased significantly during the study period.

Conclusion

Over the last years, the shelter-based convalescence care facility users were mainly homeless single males, around 45 years of age, with chronic problems due to substance use, mental health disorders and a frail physical condition, many of whom died a premature death. The facility has been flexible and responsive to the needs of the users and services available.