There is a new, groundbreaking partnership between Catholic Social Services and hospitals and health care providers in Anchorage, formed with the goals of improving health for the homeless, taking pressure off our health care and emergency services systems, and getting people into permanent housing.
These are lofty goals. Only a project that is strategic and innovative could potentially reach them, and that’s what we have in the Healthcare and Homelessness partnership.
Together with Catholic Social Services, Brother Francis Shelter and these partners — Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Alaska Regional Hospital, Providence Health & Services Alaska, Southcentral Foundation, Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center and the Municipality of Anchorage — we have formed an unprecedented partnership in our community to address homelessness and health needs.
There is a distinct link between health and homelessness. Before coming to Catholic Social Services, I spent a decade working in public health, where we look at the social determinants of health as a part of impacting and improving the health of our population. Social determinants of health are “conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” Examples of these resources include safe and affordable housing, access to education, public safety, availability of healthy foods, local emergency/health services, and environments free of life-threatening toxins. Factors like these have the power to cause poor health in people, despite genetics or biology. Lack of safe and affordable housing means a person or family could be impacted by poor weather, personal violence and lack of social interactions — just to name a few. One medical bill or unhealed illness or injury can be the cause of homelessness for a person who lives near the margin financially. Once ill or injured, healing is so difficult while in homelessness.
Hospitals see these hurdles to recovery in the patients they serve. People without a permanent place to rest and recuperate are more likely to return to the hospital following treatment much sooner due to complications. We’ve seen great examples of programs that address the issue of health and homelessness in places like Spokane, Wash., and Santa Rosa, Calif., and gained an understanding on best practices for this work. We found our model in medical respite.
At Brother Francis Shelter we will be opening 10 beds specifically for the purpose of medical respite. This means that men and women experiencing homelessness can be discharged to a bed at the shelter, like they would be to their home, in order to heal and recuperate in a safe and warm place. Programs such as these have demonstrated powerful outcomes in improved health, decreases in remittance to hospitals, and in linking to permanent housing.
Our respite project will have a housing case manager working with each person with the goal that no one is released back to homelessness.
This is just the first project of three planned by this partnership. The next phase will be an expansion of our Caring Clinic hours and operations on site at Brother Francis Shelter through an incredible partnership with Southcentral Foundation.
I will leave you with medical respite though. In partnership with Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Alaska Regional Hospital and Providence Health & Services Alaska, Catholic Social Services will provide a recuperative space for people in homelessness. We hope to address this particular subpopulation with specialized services and work to end their homelessness. This is one step of many on our agencies’ journey to prevent and end homelessness.
Catholic Social Services would like to thank our partners —the hospitals in Anchorage — who serve the sick and heal the injured. We are proud to partner with you in this effort.