Health and housing are inextricably linked. In fact, according to Dr. Derek Robinson, chief medical officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the average life expectancy of America’s homeless is between 42-52 years old, much lower than the life expectancy of the general population at 78.
What’s more, it’s estimated that more than 80% of all homeless people have at least one chronic health condition. By removing the obstacle of homelessness, it’s much easier for individuals to better manage their medical conditions and access the healthcare they desperately need.
In an effort to improve whole person care and address homelessness, healthcare organizations and city governments all over the country are joining forces to make access to housing and affordable medical treatment easier.
Kingsport, Tennessee: A Coalition To Address Homelessness
Homelessness is a communitywide problem, but it’s often passed off to police and legislators.
In Kingsport, Tennessee, Police Chief David Quillin knows this all too well.
“We cannot police our way out of this issue. It can’t be done,” Quillin said. “There has to be a coordinated, comprehensive and collaborative effort where resources are made available for folks who need and want help.”
To facilitate these efforts, the city is forming a coalition to address homelessness. The coalition is a combined effort between the city’s office of community development and the United Way of Greater Kingsport. Together, the organizations will conduct a survey of existing services for the homeless and bring groups together that can facilitate community care coordination.
There are already a number of organizations dedicated to helping the homeless in Kingsport, but up until now, there’s been a struggle to coordinate an entry point for those in need. The coalition hopes to address and improve these efforts.
Seattle, Washington: A Generous $15 Million Donation
To address homelessness in Seattle, Providence St. Joseph Health is taking a more direct approach.
The healthcare organization recently teamed up with Swedish and Premera, donating a combined $15 million toward chronic homelessness in the Seattle and King County areas.
“We say ‘housing is health’ because it is difficult to impossible to enjoy health and well-being without a stable home base. Housing is a basic social need that must be met for people to live their healthiest lives,” says Mike Butler, Providence St. Joseph Health’s president of strategy and operations.
Providence St. Joseph Health is also committed to building strong communities. So, it’s joined forces with local groups like Plymouth Housing and Catholic Community Services, as well as well-known recording artists like Pearl Jam to amplify its message.
The organization is also using community health needs assessments to help inform its investments and make access to affordable housing as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment easier.
Missoula, Montana: A 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness
In Missoula, Montana, which has among the highest homelessness rates in the state, the demand for safe and affordable housing is high.
As part of the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, the Missoula Housing Authority has announced plans to open a 12-unit apartment complex in the fall of 2020 for “critically needy” residents.
Qualifying residents will be referred through the city’s Coordinated Entry System, which will employ a “housing first” model.
According to Lori Davidson, Montana Housing Authority director, “Housing first embraces the idea that people participating in a permanent supportive housing program should be given housing even if they are struggling with issues of chemical dependency, mental illness and/or other barriers to housing that might render them ineligible under more traditional models of housing.”
Chicago, Illinois: Expanding the Flexible Housing Pool
In Illinois, the City of Chicago recently announced the expansion of its Chicago and Cook County Flexible Housing Pool thanks to a generous $1.5 million investment from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.
The Flexible Housing Pool is designed to support homeless individuals who frequently cycle through the criminal justice system or who often use hospital emergency rooms and paramedic services.
In addition to helping homeless individuals find safe housing options, the Flexible Housing Pool provides health and social support services for the residents they serve.
“Homelessness should be everyone’s concern, and that is why we are joining forces with private and public entities to support a subsidy that quickly houses and provides supportive services for some of the hardest-to-reach homeless residents,” said Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot.
Santa Monica, California: The Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team (HMST)
The city of Santa Monica, California is also working to address homelessness through community coordination.
A homeless services nonprofit, known as The People Concern operates The Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team (HMST) which links chronically homeless individuals to services that will get them on the path to permanent housing and better health.
Working in coordination with law enforcement, the street teams help to prevent antisocial behaviors that often accompany mental illness, drug, and alcohol abuse.
The results have been positive. A Rand Corporation study on the program found that homeless individuals who interacted with the HMST team also had fewer interactions with police officers, firefighters, and emergency room doctors than before.
How Community Care Coordination Improves Health Outcomes for the Homeless
By addressing homelessness, healthcare organizations, social services entities, and public safety officials can lower costs, improve health outcomes, and promote safety in their communities.
In the past, solutions to address homelessness have focused on policing and criminalization. But a growing body of data and evidence suggests that community care coordination, coordinated entry points, and referrals between organizations can improve whole-person care and lower the rates of homelessness, in general.
The cities featured in this blog are just a handful of those working to improve health outcomes for the homeless. Places like Waco, Texas and San Francisco, California are using different methods, including grants and pilot programs to further their efforts as well.
Homelessness is a problem that affects all of us. Working together, we can help end it, once and for all.