Prior Homelessness and Rent Burden as Predictors of HIV Risk for Single Room Occupancy Building Residents
Bowen, Elizabeth A.
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Homeless and unstably housed individuals are at a higher risk for contracting HIV than their stably housed counterparts. However, definitions of homelessness have varied considerably in the literature, and little is known about how different housing conditions, along with individual characteristics, may influence HIV risk. Informed by a risk environment perspective, this study examined the relationship between HIV risk and two dimensions of housing, prior homelessness and rent burden (the proportion of income one pays in rent), for adults living in single room occupancy (SRO) buildings. The study hypothesized that among SRO residents, prior homelessness and higher rent burdens would be associated with greater HIV risk. The hypotheses were tested using a cross-sectional survey design. A venue-based sampling approach was used to recruit the sample from 10 privately owned SRO buildings in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. A total of 172 participants completed an interviewer-administered survey and 163 cases were retained for the analyses after implementing quality control procedures. In the multivariate regression analyses, which controlled for factors such as age, sex, and prior felony conviction, participants who had been homeless in the past 12 months were significantly more likely to report illicit drug use other than marijuana, intravenous drug use, having sex while drunk or high, and a greater number of total risk behaviors. This lends partial support to the first hypothesis. The hypothesis that higher rent burdens would be associated with greater HIV risk was not supported. However, participants who had no rent burden (because they had no reportable income and received a full rental subsidy) were more likely than participants who had moderate or high rent burdens to engage in risk behaviors such as using illicit drugs, having more than one sexual partner, and having sex without a condom. Though there are several limitations to consider in interpreting these findings, the study also has important implications for research, theory-building in terms of the application of the risk environment framework to housing environments, and social policy and social work practice regarding the role of SRO housing, rent subsidies, and service provision in addressing both homelessness and HIV/AIDS.