With all of the rain we’ve experienced this winter, how often have you found yourself rushing for cover? Or, perhaps from the warmth of your home or office you’ve looked out the window and thought, “Nope, I’m not going out for awhile.” For most of us, having a house or place to go that keeps us warm and dry is something we take for granted. But for the over 4,000 homeless individuals in San Diego County, having a roof over one’s head on any given night is a luxury and not a given.
The causes of homelessness are varied and complex. For example, there are approximately 1,334 homeless older adults (55+) in San Diego County and many cite their economic circumstances as the primary driver in their lack of consistent shelter. For other homeless populations, prison sentences, drug addictions, or severe mental illness play a significant role in their inability to find and/or keep housing.
Sadly, those who are homeless suffer from drastically poorer health. Homeless individuals are five times more likely to be admitted into the emergency department than their counterparts. They also have a higher mortality rate than the general population including higher rates of death due to pneumonia and influenza.
Aware of the nexus between health and housing, this past month the County of San Diego’s Aging & Independence Services (AIS) in partnership with the California Department of Health Care Services, hosted a health and housing forum to discuss how federal and state funds can be used to improve the lives of some of our region’s most vulnerable homeless or housing insecure individuals. The forum, which included a variety of local agencies and non-profit organizations, explored new ways that agencies can better tap into new and existing state and federal funds to increase the availability of supportive housing in our region.
Supportive housing is the provision of long-term or permanent housing paired with additional social service supports. This could include having access to a case manager who can assist with arranging transportation to preventative health care appointments or even home-based care to assist with activities of daily living such as bathing.
One new opportunity that forum participants learned about is the No Place Like Home program, which is expected to be implemented in 2018. This program will provide incentives for housing developers to create permanent supportive housing that offers flexible, voluntary, and individualized services to chronically homeless and mentally ill individuals.
Providing supportive housing to vulnerable individuals certainly increases their quality of life and the likelihood of better health outcomes, but it is also a fiscally prudent move by preventing unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations and the worsening of chronic mental and physical health conditions.
The approach to provide “housing first” to individuals before insisting that they address personal problems such as substance abuse or gain employment is a relatively new model to address the issue of homelessness, but one that many experts now agree leads to the best outcomes.
Aging & Independence Services is committed to working with community partners to explore new solutions to help get roofs over the heads of some of our region’s most vulnerable homeless individuals, including those who are older adults 55+ or are living with disabilities. Together we can help ensure that brighter days are ahead for many of San Diego’s homeless residents. For more information of efforts to jumpstart new supportive housing opportunities, please contact Jenel Lim at Jenel.Lim@sdcounty.ca.gov.