Traumatic Brain Injuries and Homelessness

A recent study from St. Michael’s Hospital in Canada found that almost half of all homeless men had suffered at least one traumatic brain injury during their life, with over 80% of the injuries occurring before the men lost their homes. The most likely causes for the head injuries included drug blackouts, assaults, and sports injuries.

Matthew Purinton, MSW, LCSW, a staff therapist at Council for Relationships, says “Head injuries increase difficulties with impulsivity, potentially leading to more head injuries – the very definition of a self-perpetuating cycle.”

Since so many homeless men in the study suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) before losing their home, it suggests that such injuries could possibly be a risk factor for becoming homeless. “Although this study had a small sample size, it points to the complex relationship that makes homelessness such a difficult problem to address,” Mr. Purinton said. “It negates the notion that homelessness is due to being lazy, and that the way to solve homelessness is by being punitive.”

Over two million people suffer from a traumatic brain injury each year in the United States. Given the potential long term effects of brain injuries, including mental and behavioral health changes, and this new evidence linking TBIs to homelessness, it is even more important to monitor young people who have experienced a head injury. “Parents of children who have suffered a traumatic head injury should be on the look out for personality or behavioral changes following these types of injuries,” said Mr. Purinton. For more information about the study, please visit St. Michael’s website. For more information about TBIs, please visit the website for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.