History of gambling problems found in more than a third of clients served by homelessness organization
Research offers clues for those seeking to better understand, assist or treat homeless
Homeless clients using services at Toronto’s Good Shepherd Ministries are nearly nine times more likely to have a history of problem or pathological gambling than the general population, a new study has found.
“Intuitively, one might think there’s a connection between problem gambling and homelessness but very few studies have explored this in any depth,” said Flora Matheson assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and research scientist with St. Michael’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital.
“By doing this kind of research, we help community organizations to better understand their clients and provide more holistic, effective treatment.”
The findings, published in the June issue of Journal of Gambling Studies, looked at the prevalence of problem gambling and pathological gambling among 254 clients at Good Shepherd. A community-based organization in Toronto, Good Shepherd provides a range of services for homeless clients. Its administrators were concerned that an organizational focus on substance addiction and mental health issues might mean that gambling was a “blind spot” for its staff.
Of the 254 interviewed at Good Shepherd, 35 per cent indicated that at some point in their lives they had been either a problem or pathological gambler. The prevalence of gambling in the general population is around 0.6 to 4 per cent.
"Toronto shelters now have a sense of how important screening for gambling history is among people who are homeless,” said Matheson. “Further research is still needed to know whether similar rates exist across the country or the globe.”
Matheson suggests shelters should consider implementing screening for gambling as part of intake. Organizations that identify similarly high rates of problem gambling could then improve services by:
- Training staff on the signs of gambling addiction
- Equipping staff with referral resources for gambling addiction programs
- Forming partnerships with organizations that offer gambling addiction programs
- Considering potential in-house responses to gambling addictions
Gambling was defined as betting money or something of material value on an event with an uncertain outcome – such as horse races, dice, scratch cards, bingo or even a card game with friends. While gambling can be a harmless pastime for some, for others it can become an addiction affecting daily life.
Those who experience gambling as a harmful addiction are often classified as problem gamblers and have difficulty limiting money or time spent on gambling. There are varying degrees of problem gambling but pathological gambling is the most severe form; an example would be when money is spent gambling rather than on basic life necessities such as food or shelter.
Geoff Koehler is a writer with St. Michael's Hospital, a partner of the University of Toronto.