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New Study Finds Link Between Gambling and Homelessness

The homeless are nine times more likely to have experienced some form of gambling addiction, according to researchers.

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By John Lavitt

06/24/14

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A new Toronto study has allegedly found that the ability to stop a pathological gambling habit is often the difference between maintaining a normative life and ending up on the street.

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital claim to have discovered direct evidence that links problem gambling to an increased likelihood of homelessness. The groundbreaking study explored a connection that has been suspected for quite some time, but has never been proven or even examined in a scientific context.

Published in the June 2014 issue of Journal of Gambling Studies, the study looked at statistics for 254 clients at the Good Shepherd Ministries in Toronto, a service for the homeless. With 35% of the 254 subjects interviewed indicating some form of gambling problem, the results showed a prevalence for lifetime problem gambling at 10%, while 25% showed a prevalence for pathological gambling. In contrast, problem gambling affects between 0.6% and 4% of the general population, leading to the conclusion that the homeless are nine times more likely to have experienced some form of gambling addiction.

Dr. Flora Matheson, a research scientist with St. Michael’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, expressed the hope that such conclusive results would lead to reform and help. “Intuitively, one might think there’s a connection between problem gambling and homelessness but very few studies have explored this in any depth," Matheson said. "By doing this kind of research, we help community organizations to better understand their clients and provide more holistic, effective treatment."

Matheson suggested that shelters should consider implementing screening for gambling as part of the intake process. If pathological gambling contributes to homelessness, treatment options clearly need to be considered. Organizations that identify similar high rates could improve services by:

•    Training staff to recognize the signs of gambling addiction.
•    Offering referral resources for gambling addiction programs.
•    Improving in-house means to address gambling addictions.

Although the study was limited to a single homeless shelter in Toronto, Matheson believes that “[f]urther research is still needed to know whether similar rates exist across the country or the globe.”

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