Addressing Poor Nutritional Health for the Homeless in Harris County Abstract

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Addressing Poor Nutritional Health for theHomeless in Harris County


Thispaper has proposed a nutrition intervention program for the homelesspopulations in Harris County. It has noted that this group isoverrepresented in terms of vulnerability to nutritional problems. Itis also noted that the consequences of the poor diet are farreaching, characterized by physical weaknesses, falling sick often,chronic illnesses, reduced life expectancy, and high mortality ratesand economic challenges. There are various health programs availablefor addressing health problems. However, they are limited in manyways that they fail to address the problem effectively. A look at thestate of nutrition of community in Harris County reveals that theunderlying problems are systematic and can only be addressed byadopting informed intervention strategies. As opposed to the pastinterventions that focused on delivery of food supplies, the proposedinterventional practices of the new program will go beyond to includesensitization and financial support. Regular monitoring willcomplement the program implementation, which will be guided by theobjectives.

The Healthcare Problem

Theproblem of nutrition is a critical issue in Harris Country. Trustfor America’s Health (12) reports thatsights of people who are victims to nutritional challenges are alltoo common and disturbing. The author suggests that in a typicalwindshield survey around the county, one will see people with varioushealth problems associated with malnutrition — many are overweight,obese, emaciated, or already suffering from other malnutritiondiseases such as rickets, marasmus, and kwashiorkor. The statisticsfrom the University of Texas (13)gives perhaps the most precise picture of the issue. The author notesthe population of people with nutritional problems is over 47percent, yet the homeless population is overrepresented in thesestatistics, accounting for 75 percent of individuals affected byadverse nutritional health complications.

Trust for America’s Health (3) hasnoted that the primary cause of the nutritional problem is the lackof access to a balanced diet. Many of the victims are members oflow-income families who live within their limits and are unable tosustain balanced diets. Such families leave out certain meals tosquare the budget expenditure, while others exclude nutritious foodssuch as fruits and protein from their diets because they are tooexpensive.

Theconsequences of the poor nutrition are far reaching, characterized byphysical weaknesses, falling sick often, chronic illnesses, reducedlife expectancy, and high mortality rates and economic challenges.Rossi and Wright (21), for instance, notes that people from homelesspopulations are twice likely to fall ill than their counterpartsliving in decent homes. The poor nutrition accounts for well over 45percent of the causes of illnesses. This statistic implies that ifthe homeless people can be supported to have a balanced diet, thesociety will be able to close the gap in the existing healthdisparities. Besides, the homeless are mainly people with lowsocioeconomic status with limited access to health insurance impliesthat they also withstand the worst of chronic illnesses. They strainthe finances because they have to meet the cost of healthcarestraight from their pocket (Rossi and Wright 21).

Multicultural and Diversity Issues

Variousmulticultural and diversity issues are associated with poor nutritionwithin Harris County. The primary issue is homelessness, which islinked to other factors such as the socioeconomic status, mentalproblems, drug abuse and racial and ethnic disposition, andeducational achievements.

The statistics on homelessness is within HarrisCountry is well documented and mostly reveals that, while the numberof homeless people has been reducing over time, it is still high andmainly an issue of concern. The head count survey conducted in 2015by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD 23)revealed that on a typical night, as significant as 5, 351 peoplesleep rough. Out of this population, about 3,060 sleep in temporaryshelters, while there rest (2,291) do not have access to theseprovisional shelters. Nevertheless, it is noted that on the day ofthe survey, about 1,525 individuals who had reported being homelesswere held in Harris County Jail and were not included in the headcount. In this regard, the number of homeless people within thecounty could be as high as 6,876. The report by Burt and Aron (34)indicates that well over 27,728 people are accessing the homelessservice. In this regard, these statistics are particularly relevantbecause they paint the picture of how susceptible a larger populationis to homelessness that it must rely on the state and Federal welfareprograms. Given homeless is a correlate of poor nutrition, thestatistics also show the deplorable health condition that themajority of the population is exposed.

Theprimary cause of homelessness within the county is low income orcomplete lack of it. Indeed, according to WorldHealth Organization (65), the mediumincome for many people who are homeless is only around 100 dollars,yet the cheapest rented houses cost 195 dollars. In this regard, if atypical homeless person were to rent a house, he would need toexhaust his income, but that would still not be adequate. Burt andAron (56) have noted further that many of the people reported beinghomeless are unemployed. If employed, their job tenure is always soshort-lived, averagely lasting not more than three months before itis terminated. Besides socioeconomic status, there are various riskfactors for homelessness, especially social isolation, mentalproblems and drug abuse, and ethnic/racial disposition and educationachievements. For instance, Schwartzand Moore et al.(84), notes that only 91 percentof the people who reported being homeless were detached from theirfamilies and kin, while 32 percent were either mentally challengedor drug abusers. Rossi and Wright (78) note that the people of colorare overrepresented in homelessness, accounting for 75 of thehomeless populations. According to MayoClinic (17), the homeless people havelower academic achievement than their peers. This observation impliesthey have the problems with securing a job, yet they may not also beaware of what a healthy nutrition entails. In this regard, addressingpoor nutrition within the Harris County will need to consider suchfactors.

TheExisting Programs

Thereare various health programs available for addressing the nutritionalproblem. However, they are limited in many ways that they fail toaddress the problem adequately. Perhaps the most vibrant of all theprograms available is the state-funded nutrition programs. Thenutrition program, funded by the Departmentof Health and Human Services, is playing a crucial role inidentifying and addressing the problems the causes of poor nutritionamong the vulnerable populations. The mode of operation includessensitizing the public on the value of healthy nutrition and balanceddiet and providing funding support to nutrition interventions.

Italso seems that the government acknowledges the role of homelessnessconditions in exacerbating the nutritional problems. Therefore, thegovernment has also been committed to addressing the issue throughhousing agencies. Through the Departmentof Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD), the government is alsodetermined to providing support to the communities that arevulnerable to homelessness. The role of the government in combatinghomelessness is evidenced in the form of the homeless servicestimuli, a welfare housing aid scheme. Under this program, the peopleunder the risk of homeless apply for financial support from thegovernment to enable them access affordable shelters. In HarrisCounty, well over 27,728 people are accessing the homeless service.This program has been quite successful because it has succeeded inreducing chronic homelessness by as significant 30 percent as of2015, compared to the numbers in 2010 (Schwartzand Moore et al.84).

Whileit is expected that this downward trend in homelessness wouldcorrelate with the reduction in the incidents of poor nutrition, theoutcome has been different. According to Link,Schwartz, Moore et al.(34), the problems of poornutrition have not reduced, if only, they have tended to rise. Thistrend creates the allowance to argue that the current programs arelimited in addressing the problems of nutrition. Leight (205) positsthat this problematic scenario could be attributed to various factorssuch as lack of adequate funding, failure to sensitize the public onthe value of nutrition, and prevailing cultural conditions. This viewis supported by Mayo Clinic (2013) thatlack of awareness, combined with cultural issues, accounts for 60percent of causes of nutritional health problems. Besides, Rossi, andWright (78) has noted that Harris County has been able to addressthe nutritional health because funding for the concerned agencies hasnot been inadequate, compelling players to operate using limitedresources that cannot assure effectiveness. It is also noteworthythat non-governmental organizations have also been active, but thescope of their focus has tended to be limited, only focusing onproviding food aids to the vulnerable communities, rather thanattempting to address the causes.

NutritionalProgram Recommendation

Alook at the state of nutrition of community in Harris County revealsthat the underlying problems are systematic and can only be addressedby adopting informed intervention strategies. Considering the natureof the issue on the ground, an elaborate nutrition program should bethe kind that strives to consider all the factors associated with theproblem, therefore.

Thegoal and the objectives of the nutrition program are as follows:

NutritionProgram Goal: To address theproblem of poor nutrition and reduce the related health incidentsamong the homeless and vulnerable populations by 50 percent by 2020

Objectives:To achieve the stated goals, various objectives are considered andare stated as follows:

  1. To raise awareness among the vulnerable communities

  2. To address the cultural factors impeding healthy nutritional practices

  3. To liaise with stakeholders and inform on the processes of addressing disparities in healthcare access and increase access to decent homes.

The stated goals and objectives primarily meanthat the existing programs will need to be changed to reflect theneeds of the homeless and the vulnerable population. As opposed tothe past interventions that focused on delivery of food supplies, theinterventional practices of the new program will go beyond toincorporate sensitization and financial support. Awareness is crucialbecause it aims to change the behaviors of the vulnerable populationand to make them embrace healthy nutrition practices. The potentialbenefit of the sensitization program is hinged on the fact that themany people are lagging behind in nutritional practices because theyare not aware of what should count as a balanced diet (Schwartzand Moore et al.84). Sensitization is also neededto change the preferences of the community for junk foods fornutrition foods such as the whole grains, fruits, vegetables, andplant and animal proteins. On the other hand, financial support isalso potentially beneficial because it aimed at increasing thecapacity of the vulnerable populations to overcome the primary causeof poor nutrition, that is, limited finance. It is hoped that byproviding financial support, the capacity of the vulnerablecommunities will be increased to help them afford basic nutritiousfoods.

OutcomeEvaluation Plan

Toensure that the program is successfully implemented to deliver theintended purpose, the evaluation will need to be conducted. Theevaluation processes would be carried out regularly (monthly),reporting progress and identifying weaknesses, if they exist.

Toestablish whether the program is effective, the evaluations will bebased on the stated objectives. In essence, the evaluations will befocused on three elements,

  1. Awareness: Is the awareness levels of vulnerable populations improving?

  2. Cultural factors: Have the vulnerable communities been sufficiently sensitized against cultural practices that constrain nutrition?

  3. Stakeholder engagement: Is the level of stakeholder engagement elaborate to address the risks of poor nutrition such as homelessness, low education achievements, and limited access to insured health access to decent homes.

The evaluation processes will be mainly beguided by research studies that will be regularly and concurrentlycarried out to ascertain the relationships between various parametersassociated with nutrition and dieting.


Inconclusion, the aim of this paper has been to endorse a nutritionintervention plan, focusing on the homeless populations. It has beenestablished that this group is overrepresented regardingvulnerability to nutritional problems. The consequences of the poordiet are far reaching, characterized by physical weaknesses, fallingsick often, chronic illnesses, reduced life expectancy, and highmortality rates and economic challenges. There are various healthprograms available for addressing health complications. However, theyare limited in many ways that they fail to address the problemadequately. A look at the state of nutrition of community in HarrisCounty reveals that the underlying problems are systematic and can beeasily addressed by adopting informed intervention strategies. Asopposed to the past interventions that focused on delivery of foodsupplies, the interventional practices of the new program will gobeyond to incorporate sensitization and financial support. Programimplementation will be complemented by regular evaluation, which willbe guided by the objectives.

Works Cited

Burt, Mer and Aron, Let. America`sHomeless. Populations andServices. 2012. Web. October 8,2016. &lt

Leight Set.The Application of a VulnerablePopulations Conceptual Model to Rural Health. PublicHealth Nurs 20(2014)6):440-8. Print

Link BG,Schwartz S, Moore R, et al. &quotPublic knowledge, attitudes, andbeliefs about homeless people: evidence for compassion fatigue&quot.Am J Community Psychol.23(2014): 533–55. Print

Rossi, Petr. &amp Wright. Dennis. Thedeterminants of homelessness HealthAffairs 6(2014):19-32.Print

U.S. Department of Housing and UrbanDevelopment. Annual HomelessAssessment Report to the Congress.U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of CommunityPlanning and Development, 2013. Print

University of Texas. Schoolof Public Health, Health of Houston Survey,2013. Print

Mayo Clinic. ChildhoodObesity.2012. Web. October 8, 2016.&lt

World Health Organization (2013). GlobalStrategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.Childhood Overweight and Obesity. 2012.Web. October 8,2016.&lt

Trust for America’s Health. Fas in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future.Issue Report. September 2012. Print

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