Targeted analytics support Canadian healthcare agencies in addressing homelessness and enhancing SDOH

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A research project called Homelessness Counts is using data analytics to gain a better understanding of homelessness in Canada and generate policy recommendations. Led by the Western University Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing and in collaboration with ICES, the study aims to quantify homelessness and its impact on healthcare utilization, individual health, and well-being. By creating cohorts of individuals who have recently experienced homelessness using healthcare administrative data from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, the project has been able to identify trends such as increased COVID-19 infection rates, reduced vaccination coverage, opioid-toxicity mortality, and rising dementia cases among homeless populations. These findings have informed policy decisions, such as the prioritization of homeless individuals for early COVID-19 vaccination. The researchers believe that their methodological approach can help generate population-level evidence and insights to address the complexities of homelessness but emphasize that it is just one piece of the puzzle.

Homelessness is a pressing issue in Canada, with estimates suggesting that anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 individuals experience homelessness each year. The Homelessness Counts project, led by the Western University Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, aims to contribute to the understanding of homelessness by using data analytics. The project leverages healthcare administrative data from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan to identify cases of homelessness and analyze their impact on healthcare utilization and individual health. The collaboration with ICES, a research institute with access to comprehensive healthcare and demographic data, allows for in-depth analysis of the issue at a population level. The project has already produced significant findings, including increased COVID-19 infection rates, reduced vaccination coverage, and rising trends of opioid-toxicity mortality and dementia among homeless populations.

The researchers acknowledge that quantifying homelessness alone is not a solution but argue that having accurate numerical insights is essential for targeted and proactive policy and practice interventions. The project’s findings have already influenced policy decisions, such as prioritizing homeless individuals for early COVID-19 vaccination in Ontario. The researchers believe that their methodological approach can be replicated by others and can contribute to a broader movement aimed at tackling modern-day homelessness. By shedding light on the complexities and nuances of homelessness, they hope to provide evidence that confirms the existence of these situations, leading to more effective solutions and support for vulnerable populations.

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