Research has shown a powerful link between children’s exposure to homelessness and their long term health: children exposed to homelessness are several times more likely to be hospitalized and face more mental and physical health issues later in life than those with stable homes. In order to confront both the health and housing needs for families who are currently homeless or at risk of homelessness, the Boston Foundation piloted its Health Starts at Home initiative with four planning grants this year. Four MACDC members- The Neighborhood Developers, Nuestra Communidad, Urban Edge and Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnerships are involved in three of the projects in coalition with other healthcare and social service organizations. The projects use diverse strategies to link housing to healthcare: Urban Edge and MBHP are working with partners to connect families sheltered in a motel in Waltham to long-term housing and healthcare support while TND and MBHP are creating a referral system through MGH Chelsea so families who come to the hospital in need of social services can be referred to TND’s robust CONNECT program that links families to needed housing, jobs and benefits.
The planning grant was an important learning opportunity for both the Boston Foundation and the involved organizations to learn how disparate sectors, such as community development and healthcare, could work together to have a collective impact.
“A lot of organizations talked about wanting to work together, but not having the funding or the space to do that” said Pamela Hung, Program Associate in Health at The Boston Foundation.
The planning grants allowed the participating organizations to learn one another’s “language” and learn about one another’s programs and how they could be aligned. From these learnings, the groups created integrated service delivery models and two of the projects started to pilot their models to see what worked and what could be improved. All of the groups also created robust data collection and outcome systems in partnership with Health Resources in Action and the Urban Institute to evaluate the impact of the program on child health.
For the next three years, the projects have been given implementation funding to pilot the programs and evaluate their outcomes. The Boston Foundation hopes that the learnings from these initial pilots will lead to a larger policy change in how healthcare and housing programs are linked.
“Our ultimate goal is that the best practices and models uplifted through Health Starts at Home will lead to systemic changes in housing and health care funding.” Said Lucy Ellis, Program Associate in Neighborhoods and Housing at The Boston Foundation.