Every day, more than 550,000 people in the United States are affected by housing instability and homelessness. Recognizing the impact housing status has on health, Kaiser Permanente announced an impact investment of $200 million and is teaming up with mayors and CEOs nationwide to reduce homelessness and housing instability.
The health system’s initial focus will be on preventing displacement or homelessness of lower- and middle-income families, reducing homelessness by ensuring access to supportive housing, and making affordable homes healthier and more environmentally sound.
As understanding of health continues to evolve, healthcare leaders nationwide have underscored the importance of addressing social determinants of health, and housing represents a key determinant.
“We know that health is more expansive of healthcare alone. The reality is that the quality of where and how we live has a big impact on our health because, ultimately, better health outcomes begin where health starts, which is in our communities and housing stability,” explained Bechara Choucair, MD, chief community health officer, Kaiser Permanente, in an interview with The American Journal of Managed Care®.
As a family physician, Choucair has seen firsthand how housing instability affects health, attending to many patients struggling with chronic health problems that continually got worse because of their unstable housing status.
He gave the example of diabetes. If an inividual gets diabetes, has to be on insulin, and the insulin has to be refrigerated, living in a stable home with electricity and a refrigerator will allow the patient to maintain their insulin and blood sugar. However, if an individual is homeless or sleeping in a shelter, they are less likely to be able to maintain their condition. Housing also impacts readmissions to hospitals and medication adherence, explained Choucair.
With the $200 million impact investment through its Thriving Communities Fund, Kaiser Permanente hopes to identify opportunities to invest in projects that support the preservation and expansion of affordable housing. The health system will identify these opportunities through community health executives and team members in regions and services areas who work with community-based organizations, local governments, and housing advocates.
Once the opportunities are identified, they will be vetted not only for financial return, but also social return. They will look at what outcomes are expected, how many people will be helped, what wraparound services people will be able to get, and how to make sure healthcare needs are met, said Choucair.
Kaiser Permanente is also teaming up with the Mayors and CEOs for US Housing Investmentcoalition to spark a national dialogue about what policies are needed to address housing instability.
“We know that the housing issues and homelessness is a complex issue and there’s no silver bullet to address this issue, so you need comprehensive solutions at all levels of governments, from federal government to state and local,” said Choucair.
The coalition includes 17 mayors and CEOs from 11 states, including Arizona, California, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Last week, Kaiser Permanente joined mayors from Alexandria, Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; Charlotte, North Carolina; Oakland, California; and Portland, Oregon to discuss national housing challenges facing people nationwide.
“Affordable housing will be a significant focus of Kaiser Permanente’s impact investing portfolio to generate housing stability and improve health outcomes,” said Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and chief executive officer, Kaiser Permanente, in a statement. “We hope our commitment creates a broader national conversation on homelessness and encourages other companies to join with us to advance economic, social, and environmental conditions for health.”
- Kaiser Permanente