For nearly 40 years, ShelterCare has been working to reduce homelessness among individuals with psychiatric disabilities by providing both housing and supports that encourage recovery and independence. Unfortunately, even as some people get help, others fall victim to untreated behavioral health challenges, lose housing and end up on the streets. It is a cycle that must be broken to significantly and permanently reduce homelessness in Lane County.
Thanks to Kaiser Permanente, a large nonprofit health system, ShelterCare will be able to test an innovative solution to this challenge. Using a $325,000 award from Kaiser Permanente’s Housing for Health grant initiative, ShelterCare is launching the Housing Retention Program (HRP), which will be part of the agency’s existing Homelessness Prevention Program. ShelterCare will be joined by four local partners who will each handle important components of the three-year project: Cornerstone Community Housing; Homes for Good (formerly HACSA); Laurel Hill Center; and Trauma Healing Project.
The Housing Retention Program was developed from conversations with Homes for Good, which reports that 80 percent of its eviction proceedings can be traced to untreated behavioral health problems. The HRP will utilize a Community Health Worker (CHW) to assess, engage and advocate for at-risk tenants. The CHW will connect tenants with community resources that can provide treatment and support for their behavioral health challenges and help stabilize their housing situation.
By carefully gathering client data before and after referral, the HRP will measure the impact of CHW interventions. CHWs are an important focus of the Housing for Health grant initiative. Kaiser Permanente believes that CHWs are a powerful resource who can be used to reduce health care costs and build healthier communities. ShelterCare shares this belief and is excited to test this new application of using CHWs to prevent homelessness, maintain housing and improve client health.
The HRP also will include an innovative education and outreach program aimed at Lane County property owners and managers. Trauma Healing Project will develop and deliver a trauma-informed curriculum explaining why it’s important to provide housing to individuals with a history of behavioral health problems; how to identify and effectively manage tenants who appear to have untreated behavioral health issues; and why using programs like the HRP is preferable to going through an eviction process. It is hoped that this educational program builds strong relationships with Lane County property managers and opens doors for people who might encounter barriers to safe and affordable housing.
Finally, the HRP will include a strong advocacy component, something required by the grant award. ShelterCare and its partners plan to advocate at the state level to promote greater utilization of CHWs. In particular, the goal is to create mechanisms (such as billing codes) allowing for Medicaid reimbursement of CHW work. The vision of Kaiser Permanente, ShelterCare and many other entities is a future where Medicaid invests in housing and the important work of Community Health Workers, resulting in communities where more people are housed and healthy, fewer people are homeless and unhealthy and significantly less money is spent on health care.