Community Development, Homelessness

Healthcare and Housing: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Partnership for Strong Communities (PSC)
 

Christi Staples, deputy executive director, Partnership for Strong Communities. 

This morning, as we wake up to election results that show a country hungry for change, it is more important than ever to take a moment to reflect back on innovations that have shown promise for future generations. The Affordable Care Act has closed the coverage gap for 30 million formerly uninsured Americans. And for housing and health advocates like me, it is providing new opportunities to connect housing and health policy in order to end homelessness, improve healthcare for those who have been homeless or at risk of it, and reduce the cost of healthcare.

Housing and healthcare are inextricably linked. People sometimes experience homelessness as a result of mental illness, substance use or physical disabilities, or because unexpected healthcare costs create a huge financial burden and result in a loss of housing. Experts have long made the case that focusing on housing and health together, especially for low-income vulnerable individuals, can keep them in safe, secure, and affordable homes.  As an advocate for health reform specifically focused on the elimination of racial and ethnic healthcare disparities, I am acutely aware of the research that indicates communities of color and those vulnerable because of health-related problems are the ones who suffer most.

In Connecticut, many non-profits, foundations and policy makers are collaborating to adapt national strategies established through US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and US Housing and Human Services (HHS) to develop statewide programs that improve health outcomes and reduce cost of care for high-need, high-cost Medicaid enrollees.  Many investments in healthcare reform are focused on the elimination of racial and ethnic healthcare disparities – and we are working hard to connect these investments and strategies to housing stability for all communities.  Some examples include Community Care Teams and Medical Respite programs that use Community Health Workers (CHWs) to bring healthcare and community providers together in a culturally appropriate way to better serve those who are high utilizers of emergency departments and who are experiencing homelessness; and Medicaid technical assistance grants designed to help support individuals served by Medicaid in accessing and retaining stable housing.

We recognize that the lack of affordable, stable housing is contributing to the unsustainable growth in healthcare spending. When homelessness is coupled with frequent use of emergency healthcare services, overall Medicaid spending in Connecticut increases significantly. To reduce those healthcare costs, we are creating a roadmap that provides guidance for policy makers, clinicians and stakeholders about how to create greater access to housing solutions in order to improve health care outcomes, eliminate healthcare disparities and reduce overall spending on health care. The Partnership for Strong Communities, in collaboration with our partners, is piloting new innovations that integrate primary, specialty, substance use and behavioral health care with homelessness and housing programs.  More information about these programs is available at www.pschousing.org. If you are interested in joining this collaborative, please contact me at christi@pschousing.org.

Together we are stronger, and together we will end homelessness. Building strong, healthy communities that integrate health and housing policies will be critical to our success.

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