Persons experiencing homelessness in the United States experience significant barriers to self-care and personal hygiene, including limited access to clean showers, laundry and hand washing facilities. While the obstacles to personal hygiene associated with homelessness may increase risk of infectious disease, hygiene-related behaviors among people experiencing homelessness has received limited attention. We conducted a cross-sectional study of individuals experiencing homelessness in Boston, MA (n
= 194) to identify hygiene-related self-care practices and risk factors for reduced hygiene in this population. Most participants (72%) reported taking a daily shower. More than 60% reported hand washing with soap five or more times each day, and use of hand sanitizer was widespread (89% reported using sanitizer in the last week). A majority (86%) used a laundromat or laundry machine to wash clothing, while 14% reported washing clothing in the sink. Heavy drinking, injection drug use, and sleeping outdoors were identified as significant risk factors for reduced hygiene practices. People experiencing homelessness who also engage in these activities may be among the most difficult to reach for intervention, yet targeted efforts may decrease illness risk associated with reduced hygiene. Housed friends and family play a critical role in assisting homeless individuals maintain hygiene by providing showers and laundry facilities.
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