This study contrasted annual rates of difficult behaviours in emergency departments among cohorts of individuals who were homeless and low-income housed and examined predictors of these events.
Interviews in 1999 with men who were chronically homeless with drinking problems (CHDP) (n = 50), men from the general homeless population (GH) (n = 61), and men residing in low-income housing (LIH) (n = 58) were linked to catchment area emergency department records (n = 2817) from 1994 to 1999. Interview and hospital data were linked to measures of difficult behaviours.
Among the CHDP group, annual rates of visits with difficult behaviours were 5.46; this was 13.4 (95% CI 10.3–16.5) and 14.3 (95% CI 11.2–17.3) times higher than the GH and LIH groups. Difficult behaviour incidents included physical violence, verbal abuse, uncooperativeness, drug seeking, difficult histories and security involvement. Difficult behaviours made up 57.54% (95% CI 55.43–59.65%), 24% (95% CI 19–29%), and 20% (95% CI 16–24%) of CHDP, GH and LIH visits. Among GH and LIH groups, 87% to 95% were never involved in verbal abuse or violence. Intoxication increased all difficult behaviours while decreasing drug seeking and leaving without being seen. Verbal abuse and violence were less likely among those housed, with odds ratios of 0.24 (0.08, 0.72) and 0.32 (0.15, 0.69), respectively.
Violence and difficult behaviours are much higher among chronically homeless men with drinking problems than general homeless and low-income housed populations. They are concentrated among subgroups of individuals. Intoxication is the strongest predictor of difficult behaviour incidents.