Terminally-ill homeless adults and their care providers must surmount many obstacles in the receipt and provision of palliative care, according to a University of Toronto scoping review of the available grey and peer-reviewed literature on this topic, The study was published in OMEGA—Journal of Death and Dying.

Homeless individuals often live and die in the margins, disengaged from or avoidant of a health care system that they perceive as unwelcoming or discriminatory. Their care may also be medically complex and they are more likely to have comorbid physical and mental health problems, all of which may pose particular diagnostic and prognostic challenges for providers.

Some of the most consistently reported barriers to palliative care to relate to pervasive stigmatizing beliefs about homeless people that may impede the provision of compassionate, supportive care at the end of life.

Palliative Care

There are many other challenges with traditional models of palliative care for the homeless population, including practical and logistical issues, such as needing the power to refrigerate medications.

Although the review identifies extensive unmet needs, it also points to opportunities to improve the quality of life at end-of-life for people who are homeless. They found a number of promising, inclusive models, such as those that are oriented toward a harm reduction philosophy, that have the potential to enhance dignity and autonomy at the end of life while also supporting care providers.

Shelter and hospice staff often function as a family for homeless persons. This may involve a significant emotional investment so it is important to ensure that caregivers are also cared for. Specialized training for providers is key to addressing the needs of this very vulnerable population.

Homeless Adults

This is a burgeoning literature, which is very encouraging, They located 57 articles that focused on the palliative needs of homeless adults, and of these, 36 had been published in the past decade. It shows that there is a growing interest in better serving this vulnerable population.