Eight out of ten homeless people have no access to health care, despite the fact that four out of ten are in poor physical conditions.
The figures are from Dokters van de Wereld (DvdW), and appear in an answer from Flemish health minister Wouter Beke to a question from Freya Saeys (Open VLD).
On their first approach to the organisation, 82% of the most vulnerable in society, among them the homeless, had no access to the usual channels of health care. Four out of ten of those living on the street were in poor physical shape, and the level of vaccinations was, DvdW said, “worryingly low”.
Dokters van de Wereld is an association of physicians who work outside the normal health care circuit to bring professional health care to those who cannot afford it or who avoid it for other reasons.
The organisation states its aim on its website: “A large number of people in Belgium live in difficult circumstances, on the edges of society or under the poverty line. In those cases, doctor’s visits are often the first place to make savings. And so they come into a vicious circle where access to health care via the regular system becomes increasingly difficult.”
The lack of housing causes the figures to shoot up: from a study released by DvdW in December, 22% of people in housing were in a poor physical condition; among the homeless, the number jumps to 39%. And 19.2% of those in housing said they were having mental problems, compared to 40.7% of the homeless.
That study involved people in seven EU countries. To better tackle the problem in Belgium, Saeys called for better information-gathering. Beke said the government was already committed to providing the instruments for gathering the necessary information. Among the, an interfederal group composed of the regions and federal government, as well as local authorities and organisations for the homeless.
“There are many different categories of homeless,” he explained. “Besides people who literally have to live on the streets, there are for example those living in unsuitable accommodation, like caravans and garage boxes, in housing that has been declared unfit for habitation, or who are spending their nights sleeping over at friends’ houses.”