Nina has bounced from house to house for over a decade, taking the initiative and engaged the services provided by almost every social service organization in the City---food assistance, substance abuse programs, parenting classes. She’s rented a place before, but the rent was higher than what she could afford—sometimes 70% of her total income, and she always ended up evicted. But last week, she found an apartment. And this time, it’s affordable—less than 30% of her income. She called her Housing Navigator at Community enCompass the minute the keys were in her hand: “I’ve got the keys to my own place! Thank you!” It was an answer to prayer.
Housing is complicated, expensive, and basic to our stability. If you don’t have a place to call home, it’s awfully hard to be healthy.
Our hospital systems are starting to understand this. “We are about building the health of the community as a whole, and that means more than just the traditional hospital medical care,” stated Mary MacDonald, Muskegon’s Community Health Innovation Region (CHIR) Director. The CHIR was developed with the State of Michigan which selected Muskegon and 4 other regions to explore and experiment with ways hospitals can better link vulnerable patients to health indicators that go beyond medical care. These Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) cover a wide range of community health issues from food security and environment health, to employment and education. Mercy and other providers have started facilitating a survey of questions related SDOH with patients, especially to those on Medicaid, the most vulnerable. Over the last year, over 20,000 surveys have been collected. Housing insecurity is one of the issues facing these patients, and there is no doubt in the minds of the doctors that the stress from housing insecurity takes a toll on their patients’ physical health.
“For that reason, we wanted to experiment with additional housing interventions as part of the CHIR. We selected Community enCompass because they were already doing housing interventions for the homeless in our community, and we wanted to increase their reach to our patients whose housing is not stable and who are utilizing Emergency Room services with regularity, which costs the health system”, stated Mary MacDonald.
Through CHIR funding, Community enCompass hired 2 housing navigators whose job it is to help patients navigate housing options. Nina was one. “Nina needed to get out of her relative’s place, where she had been living “doubled up” for months,” Cindy Kendall, Housing Navigator for Community enCompass, stated. “We had to work together to come up with a housing plan that made sense with her income. It took some re-shaping of expectations for us to land on the right place to call home. There aren’t enough apartments out there that are subsidized for low-income. And then, we had to work hard to find resources to help with first month’s rent. But she did it. She’s got keys to her own place. And with that stability, there’s a whole lot of potential.”
Through this program, Muskegon hospitals and health centers are building a system that links their most vulnerable patients to community-based organizations like Community enCompass that are impacting other “social determinants of health” in the community. “Medical care is not going to solve an issue like chronic homelessness. Only a home solves homelessness. Once that’s figured out, we have a lot better chance at dealing appropriately with physical health issues patients have,” stated Mary MacDonald.
Community enCompass is proud to partner with Muskegon’s hospitals and health systems in this innovative project.