The Bed Fund

Posted: May 8, 2008 in Health, Homelessness

Have a few pounds around the middle you’d like to get rid of? Diet not working as well as you’d like it to? Even with the diet, does it seem like you’ve eaten one too many donuts?

As it turns out, you may not have to spend big bucks to lose weight. There is something simple to minimize your chance of gaining weight.

Get some sleep.  

This morning while I was checking out the headlines on the MSNBC website, I came across an article called, Poor sleep linked to obesity, other ills. The very first paragraphs says it all,

"People who sleep fewer than six hours a night – or more than nine – are more likely to be obese, according to a new government study that is one of the largest to show a link between irregular sleep and big bellies."

The government study was a product of the National Center for Health Statistics, which is a sub-branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were a number of other things which showed up as part of the study, but obesity is what the new articles and broadcasts primarily focused on.

I guess I must be some type of aberration because over the past four or five months I’ve been regularly getting less than six hours of sleep nightly. In fact, over the last few years I’ve sleeping for only four or five hours per night and I haven’t noticed myself getting too big for my britches (excuse the pun). If anything, my weight dropped significantly.

Of course, like everything else in life, you have to read the fine print. A bit further down the article it points out,

"… for obesity: About 33 percent of those who slept less than six hours were obese, and 26 percent for those who got nine or more. Normal sleepers were the thinnest group, with obesity at 22 percent."

So it turns out that only about one-third of people who get less than six hours of sleep chance becoming obese. But the type of sleep being spoken of here is "unbroken" sleep – which in my brain translates to "restful" sleep.

In SLO County, there are roughly 2400 homeless. There are, however, less than 200 available shelter beds. This means that over 90 percent of the county’s homeless will be sleeping somewhere other than inside an actual place of shelter throughout most of the year. And, I’m willing to bet that not very many of them actually get a good nights rest. After all, it isn’t easy to sleep when you have to worry about any number of things, such your personal safety or being rousted by local law enforcement. You tend to sleep with the proverbial "one eye and two ears open."

But thinking about the homeless people I’ve known, not that many of them would be what you would call obese. To be sure, there were a few of them who were overweight, but I don’t think that lack of sleep had anything to do with it. It was more medical or a genetic predisposition. There were a handful of them who were pleasingly plump, but obese? No.

If anything, it seems to me that majority of the homeless I’ve met are probably underweight – which is actually less healthy than being overweight. This probably accounts for the high numbers of homeless who have health problems.

The National Coalition for the Homeless fact sheet, Health Care and Homelessness, makes these two separate statements,

"The rates of both chronic and acute health problems are extremely high among the homeless population. With the exception of obesity, strokes, and cancer, homeless people are far more likely to suffer from every category of chronic health problem."

"Many homeless people have multiple health problems. For example, frostbite, leg ulcers and upper respiratory infections are frequent, often the direct result of homelessness. Homeless people are also at greater risk of trauma resulting from muggings, beatings, and rape. Homelessness precludes good nutrition, good personal hygiene, and basic first aid, adding to the complex health needs of homeless people."

What most people tend not to recognize is that homeless people with health problems – some with multiple health issues – actually cost the community more in the long run than it would be to provide the funding to adequately house them in the first place.

Without a stable living environment, the homeless are not afforded the opportunity to get the physical respite that the human body requires to heal. Due to the lack of proper rest it takes a homeless person longer to recover from various types of bacterial or viral infections – even with they are given the necessary medications. In some instances, this can bring about other more serious or permanent health issues.

For some, this has an additional negative "side effect" – it can cause them to become physically incapable of acquiring employment of any sort. Subsequently, this severely limits their potential to find a way back into the mainstream of the community.

In city after city all across the nation, motels are required to pay a transient tax to their local municipality. Considering that the homeless were at one time referred to as "transients," perhaps local governments should deliberately set apart a portion of that tax, in addition to what they allocate from the general fund, to help the homeless.

It could be called the "Tax on a motel bed to provide a shelter bed" fund.

Or, if that’s too long, then call it the "Bed Fund."

It really doesn’t matter what it’s called so long as it works.

After all, a rose by any other name…

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