The Housing First Program introduced by the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers was designed as a pilot program created to end homelessness for those struggling with long-term housing challenges. "Housing First" is a unique recovery-oriented approach that aims to provide housing for the homeless before addressing healthcare needs for these individuals.
Camden County community leader Carmen G. Rodriguez puts the Housing First method into perspective: "If you're a homeless individual and you're thinking about where you're going to sleep or where your next meal is coming from, how are you going to have time to worry about what your glucose levels are. You don't have time for that because the primary goal is surviving the next day.”
How Housing First Works
Camden's pilot program convenes a network of diverse community-based organizations to provide individuals with safe, dignified housing and extensive support services so that they can improve their health and manage chronic conditions. In order to be eligible for the program and for housing, an individual must have at least two chronic health conditions, be homeless, and have been hospitalized at least twice within the past six months.
The program uses the Camden Coalition Health Information Exchange to review hospital visit data and seek out the frequent visitors who don’t have a home address or have a shelter as their address, as this usually indicates homelessness. Workers at the Camden Coalition will keep these individuals on their radar and, when any of these people are readmitted at the hospital, they’ll approach the candidates and offer housing and healthcare help.
Caseworkers at the Camden Coalition team up with landlords and housing programs to find housing for the candidates. The housing vouchers are paid for mostly by the state, county, and local healthcare providers. Once they’ve moved in, the new residents can focus on their health, income, and integrating back into their communities. The program provides the support these individuals need to get better, from addiction counseling to doctor visits.
Housing First's Impact in Camden County
The Housing First Program not only provides homes for those in need but, in doing so, it also has reduced emergency and inpatient hospital use within Camden’s patient population, as exhibited in the chart below:
These initial findings of the pilot program reveal a 60% reduction in ED visits and inpatient readmissions, which suggests that quality of life increases and care utilization decreases when those who have unstable housing transition to permanent housing. This supports the Housing First philosophy that housing should be the first issue to be addressed for homeless high-utilizers.
As with all of Camden’s interventions, Housing First also addresses substance use disorders. At least 66% of the residents who were approved for housing vouchers have a substance use disorder, so undertaking this issue is a big step in supporting the newly housed residents.
Camden isn’t the only community to adopt this program. Across the country, other cities have launched Housing First programs. A few cities participating include: New Orleans, Louisiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Francisco, California; Quincy, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Salt Lake City, Utah. The model seems to be gaining more traction, as more communities realize the relationship between housing and hospital visits.