Performance of 2 Single-Item Screening Questions to Identify Future Homelessness among Emergency Department Patients

Academic Article


  • Importance: Despite increasing interest in assessing patient social needs in health care settings, there has been little research examining the performance of housing-related screening questions. Objective: To examine the performance of 2 single-item screening questions assessing emergency department (ED) patients' self-perceived risk of future homelessness. Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective cohort study was conducted among a randomly selected sample of adult ED patients from 2016 to 2017 in a public hospital ED in New York City. Data were analyzed from September 2019 through October 2021. Exposures: Responses on patient surveys conducted at the baseline ED visit for 2 single-item screening questions on self-perceived risk for future housing instability and homelessness were collected. One question asked patients if they were worried about having stable housing in the next 2 months, and the other question asked them to rate the likelihood that they would enter a homeless shelter in the next 6 months. Outcomes: Homeless shelter entry 2, 6, and 12 months after an ED visit, assessed using shelter administrative data in the study city, which was linked with participant baseline survey responses. Results: There were 1919 study participants (976 [51.0%] men and 931 [48.6%] women among 1915 individuals with gender data; 700 individuals aged 31-50 years [36.5%] among 1918 individuals with age data; 1126 Hispanic or Latinx individuals [59.0%], 368 non-Hispanic Black individuals [19.3%], and 225 non-Hispanic White individuals [11.8%] among 1908 individuals with race and ethnicity data). Within 2, 6, and 12 months of the ED visit, 45 patients (2.3%), 66 patients (3.4%), and 95 patients (5.0%) had entered shelter, respectively. For both single-item screening questions, participants who answered affirmatively had significantly higher likelihood of future shelter entry at each time point examined (eg, at 2 months: 31 participants responding yes [6.5%] vs 14 participants responding no [1.0%] to the question concerning being worried about having stable housing in the next 2 months). Sensitivity of the screening questions ranged from 0.27 to 0.69, specificity from 0.76 to 0.97, positive predictive value from 0.07 to 0.27, and area under the receiver operating characteristic curve from 0.62 to 0.72. Conclusions and Relevance: This study found that 2 single-item screening questions assessing ED patient self-perceived risk of future housing instability and homelessness had adequate to good performance in identifying risk for future shelter entry. Such single-item screening questions should be further tested before broad adoption.
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    Published In

  • JAMA Network Open  Journal
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    Author List

  • Byrne T; Hoang M; Montgomery AE; Johns E; Shinn M; Mijanovich T; Culhane D; Doran KM
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  • e2226691