A systematic scoping review of environmental health conditions and hygiene behaviors in homeless shelters

Highlights

  • This review describes environmental health and hygiene in homeless shelters.
  • Inadequate ventilation, unhygienic bedding, and overcrowding were often documented.
  • TB and skin diseases were the most documented health outcomes among clients.
  • Some studies described or recommended behavioral and administrative interventions.
  • Insufficient resources and transience of clients impede shelter improvements.

There are well-established relationships between health and homelessness, and shelters can facilitate the transmission of diseases and contribute to their prevention. Adequate environmental health conditions and hygiene behaviors in homeless shelters are fundamental to the health of their clients, a marginalized population. We report the status of environmental health conditions and hygiene behaviors in homeless shelters and associated health outcomes; interventions to improve these conditions, behaviors, and outcomes; and obstacles to improvement.

PubMed, Web of ScienceScopus, and EBSCOhost were searched for peer-reviewed studies, and additional sources for grey literature. Studies were included if they reported primary data on one or more environmental health condition or hygiene behavior in homeless shelters.

Twenty-eight studies were included in the review. Insufficient ventilation systems, unhygienic bedding, and overcrowding were the most documented environmental health and hygiene deficiencies in homeless shelters, and tuberculosis infections and skin diseases were the most documented associated health outcomes among clients. Studies frequently recommended or described implementation of behavioral and administrative controls, ventilation system improvements, and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation fixtures.

Most studies addressed airborne transmission of tuberculosis and were conducted in high-income countries, revealing an imbalance in the literature. Insufficient resources and the transience of clients are barriers to improving hygiene behaviors and environmental conditions in homeless shelters. Further investment and research into ensuring adequate hygiene and environmental health in this setting can protect and promote the health and well-being of people experiencing homelessness.

A systematic scoping review of environmental health conditions and hygiene behaviors in homeless shelters. M. Moffa, R. Cronk, D. Fejfar, S. Dancausse, L. Acosta Padilla, J. Bartram. 2018. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 222:3, pp. 335-346. doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheh.2018.12.004