Économie et Statistique n° 391-392 - 2006The Homeless
Social contact and health of the homeless
The users of homeless shelters or hot meal distribution services represent a very specific population, experiencing both precarious situations and health problems. Their contacts with family, close friends and acquaintances are very similar, with no differentiation between the different relationships. The respondents can be separated into groups according to whether their social contact is regular or not, whoever this is with. There is a significant link between this contact and perceived health: those who have more regular contact with their close family and friends are more likely to state that they are in good or very good health. More specifically, in the case of a chronic or serious illness, contact with close family or friends can protect against the risk of depression; therefore, it is the relative lack of contact with close friends and family, and not the lack of close friends and family to contact, which is the most harmful for the ill person. This suggests that it is important to incorporate the influence of relationships with close family and friends into the study of the construction of personal identity and self-esteem. Another aspect of the link between health and social contact concerns the use of health care provisions, and in the particular case of this study, of dental care services: social isolation appears to be significantly associated with a lower use of these services. However, even if the regularly explored link between social contact and health is here globally proved, and it remains very plausible that interpersonal relationships have a beneficial effect on health, it is also important to highlight that they are not a cure-all. Only the quantity of social contact was measured in this study, and not their quality: regular contact is not necessarily «good» contact, and can possibly result in subjection and violence.