More than 9,700 people registered for the Homelessness and Housing First webinar hosted by NLIHC, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) on February 21! The webinar, “Housing First Promotes Health,” provided an overview of the research on Housing First and health, the important role state governments can have in bringing housing and supportive services together, and the opportunities and challenges for implementing Housing First for people with significant health challenges. The next webinar will be held on Monday, March 20, from 2:30 to 4 pm ET. Register for the series at: https://bit.ly/3vIbn5o
CBPP Vice President for Housing and Income Security Peggy Bailey provided opening remarks, stating that the webinar aims to reset the narrative about housing and health improvements for people who are unhoused. She noted that the webinar will provide advocates with tools to explain how any intervention strategy that perpetuates barriers to housing further harms people physically and mentally, making it even harder for them to exit homelessness. “Housing First, when done properly, which means centering the person who is unhoused and their ability to self-determine their own needs, is a first step towards improving people’s health and stabilizing their lives,” said Peggy.
Dr. Margot Kushel, director of the University of California San Francisco Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, described how housing is foundational to good health and outlined evidence demonstrating that Housing First effectively keeps people housed. She explained that pushbacks against Housing First tend to blame the approach for the root cause of the homelessness crisis: the extreme shortage of homes affordable to people with the lowest incomes. She urged advocates, providers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to be clear about the comparison between Housing First – an evidence-based approach – and the alternative approach, Treatment First, which provides neither housing nor treatment. Dr. Kushel discussed the substantial evidence base supporting the Housing First approach, highlighting the fact that all rigorous studies favor Housing First over alternative strategies.
Whitney Joy Howard, housing team unit manager with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, spoke about the implementation of the state’s Medicaid coverage of supportive housing services. She discussed Washington State’s Housing First programs, including the supportive housing services provided by the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA). Whitney shared how ALTSA has developed a collaborative relationship among community partners, providers, and state funders to administer Housing First programs and support service providers.
Christy Respress, president and CEO of Pathways to Housing DC, shared how her organization leverages Housing First to provide housing and services to people with significant health challenges. Sharing her critical perspective as a provider, Christy emphasized that Housing First without services is not Housing First. Christy discussed how Pathways to Housing DC provides customized services based on what people need and what they are asking for, and she described how Pathways layers primary physical health and mental health care into their services.
During a discussion following the presentations, the panelists elaborated on the importance of collaboration among the healthcare, homeless services, and housing systems. Whitney shared how Washington State officials have broken down silos among these systems by building relationships and working together more intentionally to identify how to “consciously couple” resources. She stressed the need to work across federal, state, and local partners and funding resources to ensure there are robust funding streams for housing and services. Whitney added that systems must ensure that the people who are providing services – the people who are making Housing First a reality – are compensated fairly and supported by their supervisors.
Dr. Kushel emphasized earlier points that Housing First is not housing only, and she urged providers to leverage all resources, including Medicaid and other sources of funding, to provide personalized services that match an individual’s needs. She further addressed critiques against Housing First, explaining that while we desperately need to increase the supply of affordable housing for the lowest-income renters, our failure to do so does not suggest that we should revert to ineffective, high-barrier strategies. “Housing First is the best way to use the units that we have while we fight to increase the availability of those units to decrease the insidious effects of racism, income inequality, and the lack of planning and building of affordable housing,” said Dr. Kushel.
Christy acknowledged that services are not funded in many communities, and while this is a challenge, it does not mean that these communities cannot implement Housing First. Instead, they must work harder and more closely with their cross-sector partners to develop creative solutions to serve people who are unhoused. She emphasized the importance of working for long-term policy change to ensure that every community has access to resources while ensuring that every available resource is leveraged to support individuals in need of housing and services. She added that a focus on prevention is key to stopping the pipeline of people entering the homeless system.
Peggy shared how state and local officials, providers, and advocates can make the case for Medicaid expansion by highlighting how Medicaid can cover housing-related services to support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. She encouraged advocates to educate stakeholders about how Housing First supports health, including by building alliances with state and local health care providers and leaders, advocating for and helping implement Medicaid coverage of housing-related services, and educating local officials on homelessness and Housing First.
Peggy wrapped up the webinar by inviting attendees to share stories they have collected about how Housing First is benefiting the people they serve. We are hearing more and more from policymakers about the importance of uplifting positive stories about how Housing First is helping people obtain and maintain housing. Please share these stories with NLIHC Senior Policy Analyst Alayna Calabro by emailing [email protected]!
We have uploaded a recording of the call, as well as the presentation slides.
Did you miss the previous webinars on homelessness and Housing First? Check out the webinar recaps, including links to the recordings and presentation slides.
The next webinar will be held on Monday, March 20, from 2:30 to 4:00 pm ET. Register for the series at: https://bit.ly/3vIbn5o
Read more about Housing First at: https://bit.ly/3vHf8YR