23 Jun Wallace Housing for Health Program Has Placed 22 Families and Individuals in Homes Since 2018
By Katrina Ratzlaff, Director of Community Engagement, Wallace
After Amanda (name changed to protect privacy) left an unhealthy relationship, she lived in her truck for over a year. With no place to call home, her struggles with stressful life events and alcohol seemed almost hopeless. On top of everything else, she suffered for a long time with a broken foot that she didn’t have the means to take care of properly. Then she learned about Housing for Health at Wallace, and the darkness began to lift. Her foot is getting better, and she’s participating in treatment for her alcohol use. She feels safer.
Health is the foundation of all success—the breath that gives life to hope. Yet, most of what affects health happens outside of the doctor’s office. Wallace cares for increasing numbers of people who are homeless or threatened by homelessness. With lives in constant crisis, people can’t focus attention on their health. Existing health conditions get worse. New ones arise.
Housing for Health aims to address the impossible situation of individuals and families attempting to improve their health while homeless. “It all starts with housing,” said Christine Sanders MSW/CHW, the program’s Lead Navigator. “Take care of that one big stressor, and suddenly everything else becomes fixable.”
Our model provides intensive support preparing families for the transition from homelessness, securing affordable housing, and assuring their stability. Many families find homes through the project’s public housing partner, Home Forward; Wallace successfully places others in private housing. Our Housing Navigator follows participants through all stages in their housing process and stays engaged with them to support their long-term housing stability.
“Anytime I was feeling like hope was lost because of a barrier,” said one participant, “[the Housing Navigator] was there to be like, ‘Uh-uh, we’re doing this. Come on.’”
Since the project launched in late 2018, 22 patient families have moved into their new homes—including five placed since the pandemic arrived in March. So far, every family remains in housing. Children attend school and parents are involved in education or employment. Family members access multiple health services, including needed surgeries and mental health. Acute health issues present when families entered the program have, and continue to be, addressed. Those with high-risk health issues, such as diabetes, cancer, and severe back pain, are managing their diagnoses and diseases.
Where one inequity lives, others follow. Oregon communities that already struggle with a wide range of disparities carry the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. One recently housed Wallace patient said, “I’m so grateful not to be out there right now with the virus.”
The pandemic has generated new concerns and intensified others. “People are dealing with a lot more stress,” Sanders said. “They’re worried about their family’s health and safety—a lot of them know people who have had COVID. They’ve lost jobs or work fewer hours. If they still have a job, they might feel unsafe there—like one person who works at a shipping warehouse. They’re trying to help extended family members who’ve lost jobs and sharing their small incomes. Some face increased bias from landlords and authorities.”
One of the biggest everyday worries is putting food on the table. “Every day I talk with patients who are scrimping on food so they can pay utilities or rent. A lot of them, especially the most medically vulnerable, can’t access available food resources if they’re not in walking distance. And, carrying a big food box home isn’t easy, either!” Kids are home all the time now which puts even more strain on food supplies.
Sanders and her colleagues have learned that families often hide their struggles with food and other basic needs. “Many, especially those who are immigrants, have a misconception that Wallace and other helping organizations are run by the government—and they don’t want to put themselves or their families at risk by disclosing information about themselves. Non-profits unaffiliated with the government just aren’t anything they’re familiar with. So sometimes that trust barrier is the first thing we have to address.”
Getting additional patient families into new homes has added challenges during this time of pandemic. Few residents want to move during an uncertain time, leaving no openings in public housing or Section 8 for months on end. Rents continue to climb in the private market as well as turnover slows. Despite these realities, Wallace’s team plans to house several more families in the weeks ahead.
Keeping currently housed families stable is also high priority, Sanders said. “We’re spending a lot of our time right now on supportive services. Mental health needs have gone way up—we’ve seen a big uptick in the need for coaching on stress reduction and addressing anxiety. And finding solutions to practical needs like food, utility assistance, and rent are critical too.
While the project has financial resources to assist patients, these are applied thoughtfully. When a family is in a tight spot with a household expense, in addition to offering some one-time help, part of the conversation is how the family will take care of it in the future. “We look for ways to find that bridge between a barrier right now that is completely stalling progress, and the family’s ability to manage for themselves.”
“I don’t feel as depressed as I was,” said one mother, “And, I feel hopeful and I feel like there’s some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.”