HOUSING IS HEALTHCARE

In the wake of COVID-19, medical experts across the world advise us to wash our hands, social distance and stay home. But you can’t follow this advice if you don’t have a home. Worse yet, people who are unhoused are more likely to have chronic medical issues that put them at higher risk for serious illness or death from the virus. On top of this, black citizens in St. Louis—who are at higher risk from the virus—make up a disproportionate number of people without homes and face more housing discrimination.

So what do we do? We find a way to house people, because housing is healthcare.

Housing people who are chronically ill and homeless is more than finding them four walls… it requires ongoing support. The St. Louis Housing is Healthcare Project aims to provide comprehensive services—including bridge housing, long-term housing, ongoing social support and mobile healthcare—to the 100 people living without homes who are at greatest risk of severe or deadly illness due to COVID-19. Housing is Healthcare will also provide safe havens and housing-focused case management to 650 additional people and house up to 100 additional individuals and families. These actions would account for an estimated 40% reduction in chronic homelessness in the St. Louis region. Read the full proposal here.

Housing is Healthcare draws upon a multi-disciplinary team from nonprofit and for-profit organizations in the human services, shelter, healthcare, affordable housing and academic sectors in St. Louis, Missouri. This group includes representatives from BJC, City Hope STL, Gateway Housing First, Horizon Housing, Saint Louis University, St. Patrick Center and The T.

Failing to house people who are medically vulnerable and without homes will endanger their lives. It will also cost the health, human services, and public safety infrastructure about $35 million over two years in emergency healthcare, inefficient shelter programs, law enforcement interactions and downstream system effects. Providing services without housing is akin to giving someone socks with no shoes. It might seem cheaper, but in the long run, the hardship of walking without shoes repeatedly destroys the socks and may cause blisters or, in this metaphor, worsen people’s health and ultimately cost more. This truth is made more extreme as the pandemic increases its burden on systems and cost of care. Inversely, if people have shoes with no socks, they will find the shoes are uncomfortable and their sweat will damage the shoes. People need the shoe for its protective structure just as they need the sock for its supple, soft and absorbent qualities. In the same way, if we want to protect people from the ravages of Coronavirus, we must provide both housing and support services. All too often, only one gets funded. This project integrates both.

Housing is Healthcare is currently seeking funding from various foundations, including Jack Dorsey’s COVID-19 Start Small Foundation. Funding this project will reduce the chance of death from COVID-19. It will also cost an estimated 80% less than the $35 million alternative: $7.5 to operate for two years ($5 million for the first year and $2.5 million per additional year). By addressing the racial and economic injustices connected to housing and healthcare, we can create the necessary conditions for human dignity and flourishing. If you want to help, retweet the St. Louis Housing is Healthcare Project using @jack, #startsmall, #housingishealthcare. To get involved or learn more, contact Tim Huffman at tim.huffman@slu.edu.