access to health services; condition prevalence; homeless shelters; homelessness; social determinants of health; unhoused; COVID-19


Clinical and Medical Social Work | Other Mental and Social Health | Public Health and Community Nursing | Substance Abuse and Addiction



During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in the number of unhoused individuals in Asheville, North Carolina resulting in more tent encampments.

Understanding the physical, mental, and socially determined health characteristics associated with being unhoused can help guide stakeholders with policy development, healthcare program planning, and funding decisions to support unhoused individuals.


In this study, we used an observational cross-section methodology. Using a convenience sample approach, we interviewed 101 participants who were receiving services from 2 emergency hotel shelters, a day center, and a resource center. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, and open-ended responses were collected and grouped to provide context.


Most participants were White (71%) and identified as male (76%). Over 60% reported having a high school education or advanced degree. Of the participants, 76% reported being unhoused for more than 6 months, and their last permanent housing was in Western North Carolina. Dental disease, chronic pain, and hypertension were common physical conditions. PTSD, depression, and anxiety were common mental health conditions. A lack of transportation was the most noted socially determined challenge. Marijuana, methamphetamine, and alcohol were the most often used substances, where methamphetamine was noted to be particularly problematic for the participants.


Understanding the physical, mental, and social issues of the complex unhoused population can assist policymakers, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders in addressing challenges and testing improvement strategies.