Nobody can solve homelessness on their own. But if we work together—health care providers, government agencies, nonprofits that provide needed services, and insurance payors – we can become an outstretched hand to help people experiencing homelessness and prevent others who are struggling with housing instability.
A New Network for Collaboration
For decades, CommonSpirit Health has been collaborating with other organizations to serve people in need and finding common ground to advance meaningful policies that will address both housing and health inequities and issues of systemic racism that causes undue harm to communities of color, especially those most vulnerable. This is why we’re excited to partner with Funders Together to End Homelessness to launch a new network, Health System Funders for Housing Justice.
We launched this network with the goal of bringing more people together to fund programs that work and advocate for necessary changes at the local, state and federal arenas. We believe health care institutions are the natural conveners for housing and healthcare transformation. After all, homelessness is a public health issue, and we have a distinct voice to share. Together, we can leverage our story and the power of our examples to reach policymakers and broaden the base of supporters that will help bring people home.
On January 25th and 26th, Funders Together to End Homelessness and CommonSpirit Health hosted the Health System Funders for Housing Justice Network launch. Participants from fifteen healthcare systems across the nation came together to explore the inextricable link between healthcare and homelessness systems. During the two days, the group began to set the table for how they could spend the coming years working more collaboratively through advocacy, policy, investments, and partnerships.
Building on Innovative and Proven Solutions
While this new network just launched at the end of January, the foundation has been laid for years. We’re especially proud of the collaboration we’ve forged and are continuing to foster that is the Frequent Users Systems Engagement project, or FUSE. This is an evidence-based approach for assisting patients who are experiencing homelessness and are high utilizers of crisis services. It involves intensive case management, housing navigation, and linkage to community-based primary and behavioral health care, with the aim to establish medical homes and improve housing stability. A decade ago, Dignity Health (which is part of CommonSpirit) worked with the Corporation for Supportive Housing to pilot the FUSE model in Los Angeles County at two of our hospitals, along with 14 others in the county.
Due to the pilot program’s promising results, and thanks to support and partnership with Blue Shield of California, we were able to expand the FUSE model last year. And while we were able to grow our existing collaboration with Blue Shield in 2020, the expansion also allowed us to strengthen our partnership with the other organizations who were actively engaged, including John Welsey Community Health, a federally qualified health center that provides an array of services; Housing Works, which offers permanent supportive housing; and Corporation for Supportive Housing, which provides policy and advocacy support for FUSE. Together, we’ve been able to connect more people to the services they need, and help those who require supportive housing find stable places to live. As a result, we expect to lower health costs to the community and reduce emergency department visits and hospitalizations in the long-term.
Meeting An Urgent Moment with Action
The economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is increasing homelessness. The urgency of this moment is why the Health System Funders for Housing Justice network is so critical. We’ve seen what we can do during the COVID-19 crisis when we work together with others.
In California last spring, at the onset of the pandemic, we were able to direct funds from Dignity Health’s new Homeless Health Initiative to food banks and other programs that could address basic needs quickly. In the summer, we shifted our strategy to assist our local communities in coordinating resources from state programs. For instance, we convened efforts in rural communities to assist in integrating California’s Project Roomkey crisis housing initiative and its Whole Person Care health program for homeless populations. Although we’ve provided funding, which is certainly needed, our approach emphasizes bringing state and local resources together efficiently. We want to bring referrals and resources directly to people who are already overwhelmed by housing insecurity and risk of COVID-19 instead of asking them to navigate the process on their own.
Our intention is that Health System Funders for Housing Justice can scale up this work and other best practices, and move policies forward that enable effective collaborative models. During the launch, we brought institutions and organizations together to start this work, and we hope more will join us. Because none of us can do it alone.
Ashley Brand is the System Director, Community and Homeless Health for CommonSpirit Health, focused on addressing housing insecurities, homelessness and food insecurities across our national footprint. Her priorities include the California homeless health initiative which concentrates on transforming health and our communities by strengthening the continuum of care for those experiencing housing insecurities through innovation, partnership and lasting impact. Prior to this, Ashley served as the Director of Community and Outreach for Dignity Health’s Greater Sacramento Service Area hospitals. As director, Ashley was responsible for developing and overseeing the community health and community benefit strategies that respond to priority health issues identified through assessments, support hospital business/clinical objectives, and involve collaboration with safety net partners for greater effectiveness and region-wide impact on health improvement.
Ashley has over 12 years of experience developing and implementing programs that target the underserved and uninsured populations in both Northern and Southern California and overseas in East Africa. Prior to Dignity Health, she was responsible for overseeing various programs, grant development and implementation, as well as community relations, with a focus on public and nonprofit safety net agencies. Ashley developed the California Endowment-funded Community Health Navigator Program under their state-wide Building Healthy Communities Initiative; she implemented and managed the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in Auburn, CA and in Long Beach, CA; and provided direct case management services for the Skid Row Families Demonstration Project which removed families from Skid Row in Los Angeles and placed them into housing under the Housing First model. Ashley currently serves on the Sacramento Covered, CARES Foundation and Sacramento Steps Forward Board of Directors. She is also a member of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council’s Respite Care Provider’s Network Steering Committee.