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Using Data-Driven Solutions to Advance Housing for Health During and Beyond

Community Solutions and Kaiser Permanente joined forces to create a new cost estimator tool that uses local data to help communities understand current gaps between housing and health and take action to increase capacity for care.

Originally published on LinkedIn / Co-authored by Rosanne Haggerty, President and Chief Executive Officer, Community Solutions and Bechara Choucair, MD, Chief Health Officer, Kaiser Permanente

In the midst of #COVID19, having a safe, reliable place to live has never been more important. Our homes have become our frontline defense against this pandemic – providing refuge and sanctuary for individuals and families across the country who are sheltering in place to contain the spread of the virus.

Now more than ever, homelessness is truly a matter of life and death.

Due to the higher likelihood of pre-existing conditions, weakened immunity and barriers to basic sanitation, our homeless neighbors are more vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure, complications and death. The ripple effects of an outbreak among the homeless in our communities would strain already thin resources in the hospitals we rely on to keep us well.

Our communities need real-time data and systems-thinking to better protect the health of all — and this means ensuring unsheltered populations without stable homes have access to safe spaces for quarantine and isolation. It’s imperative that public health response systems prioritize permanent housing placements as viable short- and long-term solutions. But for communities struggling to balance the rapidly changing and growing needs of their people experiencing homelessness, it can be difficult to know where to start. 

“Now more than ever, homelessness is truly a matter of life and death.”

That’s why Community Solutions and Kaiser Permanente joined forces to create a new cost estimator tool that uses local data to help communities understand current gaps between housing and health and take action to increase capacity for care.

The city of Sacramento – among the first of Built for Zero’s 81 communities to introduce the cost estimator tool – experienced promising results. Policymakers used the tool to evaluate the number of quarantine and isolation spaces needed to protect the city’s homeless population, allowing leaders to plan for and deliver on the community’s pressing needs. On April 7, city and county officials approved a $15 million plan that allocated significant federal relief funding to ensure 990 safe isolation spaces for homeless individuals, and we hope to see similar results across communities.

As we navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19, Sacramento and other communities can deploy this resource to:

  • Understand immediate housing needs: Using local data, along with epidemiological estimates and predictions outlined in recent research by University of Pennsylvania’s Dennis Culhane and colleagues, to help city leaders understand the need and cost for quarantine and isolation units and permanent housing placements for individuals age 50+ and/or individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in their community.
  • Determine gaps in funding: Quantifying gaps in funding by allowing city leaders to input current or expected funding for homeless populations and tracking against their communities’ outstanding needs.
  • Identify opportunities for long-term investment: Providing a holistic view beyond immediate treatment to ensure people experiencing homelessness can safely isolate and quarantine – using data to track progress, identify successes and implement long-term #HousingForHealth solutions.
  • Mitigate ongoing risks during times of crisis: Using lessons learned to strengthen public health infrastructure and wraparound services to better address health needs as this pandemic continues to pose a pressing threat to people’s lives.

With new, community-specific evidence in hand, we hope to create a tangible roadmap for communities to protect the health of unhoused neighbors during this critical time.

We must do more to advance health for our communities’ most vulnerable — like our homeless neighbors — and understand that in doing so, we’re creating more healthy years for all. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 and safeguarding the long-term health of our communities is a shared responsibility. Putting actionable information into communities’ hands makes it that much easier for everyone to play their part. 

COVID-19 Cost Estimator Tool

The COVID-19 Cost Estimator Tool, developed by Community Solutions in partnership with Kaiser Permanente, generates a rough estimate of the need and cost for the following interventions that your community might try in response to COVID-19:

  • Providing quarantine and isolation (Q&I) units
  • Providing permanent housing placements