Can We End Homelessness?

   

homeless

The housing crisis continues to affect millions of Americans.

In a final, exhaustive effort to support renters, homeowners, and landlords who have been hard-hit by the pandemic, the eviction moratorium has been officially reinstated for an additional 60 days. It is, no question, a relief and saving grace for many, but as the CDC has said previously, it will eventually end—and what happens then?

Once the moratorium is lifted, it's only a matter of time before countless Americans face eviction or homelessness. Even with numerous cities and states offering housing vouchers and other forms of assistance, studies show that there are gaping holes in the system, which many community stakeholders are working hard to fill.

The current state of housing in America 

An estimated 6.4 million households were behind on rent as of March 2021, with 27 percent of Black, 22 percent of Asian, and 18 percent of Latino renters saying they were not caught up on rent, compared to just 10 percent of white renters. 

Among homeowners, an estimated 2.1 million are more than 90 days behind on payments and are facing severe financial hardship when payments resume. 

The pandemic has exacerbated many health-related problems and the threat of eviction is still looming over millions of households, many of which are low-income and facing other prominent issues like unsafe living conditions, food insecurity, social isolation, and job insecurity.

Just the anticipation of eviction puts Americans at a higher risk of experiencing health- and mental health-related issues like high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. 

When you’re struggling to make your mortgage or rental payments and keep utilities running, you may sacrifice meals, car payments, or child care. You’re certainly not thinking about getting a six-month dental cleaning or visiting your primary care physician for an annual check-up.

Aligning efforts to build effective solutions

Community-based organizations have always reached beyond their services to meet the most prevalent needs in their community—and right now, housing is high on the list. Many are offering utility assistance, guidance on paperwork, and creating additional housing options, as they work with local landlords to make more units available to individuals and families in need.

In Ohio, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority issued 241 emergency housing vouchers in June for people who were homeless, on the verge of becoming homeless, and those fleeing situations of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking. To act quickly and provide vouchers for individuals and families in dire need, they turned to Strategies to End Homelessness, who work in partnership with more than 30 non-profit organizations across the city and serve more than 12,000 people annually. 

The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) is also working with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN) to remove housing barriers for domestic violence survivors who are experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. 

In Detroit, a group of six housing nonprofits joined together to form the Detroit Housing Network, which provides mortgage and financial counseling to homeowners, property tax foreclosure prevention, home repair help, utility assistance, and assistance for low-income households who want to become homeowners. 

Turning to legislation

While the Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance program has made $46.55 billion available to help individuals struggling to make rental payments. The problem is that 30 percent of families nationwide say they can't use their government-issued vouchers because of obstacles such as:

  • Finding eligible housing approved by housing assistance programs.
  • Getting in contact with landlords to inquire about a rental property.
  • Discrimination from landlords who stereotype those who are granted vouchers.

To prevent homelessness, we need policy changes. We need to make housing a priority, not just during the pandemic, but long after it ends.

The Local Solutions to End Homelessness Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Sires, and the Improving Housing Outcomes for Veterans Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Portman, are just two examples of legislation that could bring significant change. 

Although there are positive changes being made, such as Sacramento issuing $2,500 bonuses to landlords participating in the Housing Choice Voucher program and Michigan's Tenant Empowerment Act, which is helping to improve the quality of homes, we still have a long way to go to develop a better, long-term housing solution. 

Homelessness is a nationwide problem, but it’s also local and it affects every one of us. The more people who end up on the street, the more we allocate funding to emergency room visits, ambulance rides, temporary shelters, substance use treatment, medical care, even time in jail. To change the outcomes for community members, we need to offer more preventative measures.

The future of housing and health

“Homelessness is caused by and exacerbates poverty, poor health, addiction, mental illness, and violence,” says Seiji Hayashi. “What can be done to stop this seemingly hopeless cycle?”

Housing serves as a foundation for good health and in the coming months, it is more important than ever for government entities, payers, providers, non-profit organizations, and other community stakeholders to band together to address housing instability and collectively prevent widespread homelessness. You may not have the funding or authority to supply rental units or financial assistance, but you definitely have a role to play; we all do.

Health extends far beyond healthcare and housing is just one of many social issues that we are dedicated to addressing. Our mission at Healthify is to ensure that no one’s health is hindered by their needs and we ensure that utility assistance, housing repair, financial literacy, and job assistance, and other social services are made available to low-income families battling housing insecurity and the threat of eviction. 

Learn more about our mission here or download our white paper Establishing SDoH Partnerships with Community-Based Organizations to learn about the importance of clinical-community relationships.

Topics: social determinants of health public health housing insecurity population health coordinated care SDoH partnerships

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