Michelle’s Corner: Housing is Healthcare

April 3, 2020

Housing is Healthcare

A philosophy that has been embraced by Oregon for a few years in the fight to end homelessness is called “Housing First,” although it has been practiced by ShelterCare since 1997. Boiled down to its most simplistic description, it means that there are many reasons a person may become unhoused: mental illness, physical illness, drug addiction, domestic violence and so many more. These are complicated issues that are difficult to address in the best of times.

It is impossible to deal with if you are living on the street, never sure if you will be safe tonight or the next or the next.

Each of us has had to deal with some sort of challenge in our lives. Perhaps you’re a cancer survivor or have diabetes. It could be as simple as suffering through the common cold or a round of the flu. Now imagine battling a fever, nausea, the aches and pains while being outside. Where do you store your medication to keep it from being stolen? How do you stay clean to avoid getting worse?

Housing First treats housing as a healthcare need. Rather than a reward at the end of a journey, it’s the first step towards completing the journey with the goal being self-sufficiency and health. It’s stabilizing  patients in a safe environment then working on therapies and programs to help them heal and get the resources vital for them to make a change in their lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has crystallized the need for housing as healthcare for the unhoused in Lane County. From the onset of concern for the growth of this disease, the tools that those with homes had accessible to them were out of reach to those without reliable shelter. From washing hands, to being able to maintain social distances, to being able to stay at home, a too-large portion of the Eugene/Springfield population has not been able to comply.

To make matters more challenging, many of the unhoused fall into the at-risk categories identified by the CDC: over age 60 with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and lung disease. 

The Lane County Public Health Department and many of the social service agencies have come together to find solutions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Hand washing stations can be found throughout the cities. Emergency shelters with protocol for screening and spacing are being set up.

ShelterCare is the preeminent agency for Housing First in the area. Its staff have also been busy using housing as healthcare as they continue to find both temporary and permanent housing for individuals and families so they can shelter-in-place, receive mental health care, and remain healthy.

COVID-19 has pushed us to find new tools and solutions in our work, but we haven’t stopped in our mission to create a community where everyone is valued, supported and safe.

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