Covering case management, recruitment, and rent subsidies, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services is using county health funds to better care for the homeless.

Kaiser Health News highlighted a great example: L.A. County health officials hand picked roughly 100 ill homeless residents to live in the Star Apartments, which has a county-run medical clinic on the bottom floor.

Research suggests that supportive housing allows people to focus on their health and address issues that may have led to their homelessness in the first place. And having care in your building? I am guessing that is life-changing.

Along with a 350-square-foot basic apartment near Skid Row, Star residents get regular check-ins with case managers. They also have access to onsite depression support groups and diabetes classes, a vegetable garden, and recreational activities (such as the Wednesday music jam session).

Michael Montana, 59, spent roughly eight years on the streets and survived multiple trips to the hospital before moving into Star Apartments. Even with chronic lung disease, diabetes, and arthritis, Montana said he hasn’t been to the hospital once in the last year, according to Kaiser Health News.

Expanding Homeless Housing

The county’s Housing for Health program began in 2012 and is currently helping house 700 people at dozens of sites. Program leaders said they plans to serve 1,500 more over the next year. Still, that is a fraction of the estimated 12,000 chronically homeless people in the county, according to the program’s director, Marc Trotz. Federal Medicaid dollars would allow them to expand further, he added.

Administrators from the state health care services department agree and will propose to expand the program statewide, petitioning the federal government for permission to use Medicaid dollars. According to Kaiser Health News, California does not yet have estimates on how much federal money it might need.

The article continues:

Studies in several states, including Illinois and Oregon, have shown a reduction in emergency department use and length of hospital stays when homeless people move into housing. Research on the Los Angeles County program produced similar results. In one 2013 report, the Economic Roundtable found that total health care costs for homeless patients in supportive housing were 72 percent lower per person than for those still homeless.

Yet, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services already turned down a request from New York to house chronically ill homeless patients using federal Medicaid dollars. New York instead uses state Medicaid funds.

Other states, including Massachusetts and Louisiana, are using federal dollars to the same end but indirectly, by covering services that keep specific patient groups, such as those with severe mental illness, in housing.

Homelessness – a social determinant of health

If California gets permission, this could change the way essential hospitals care for the most vulnerable among us – addressing those key social determinants of health with far more financial support. For more on this, check out all of the articles exploring social determinants of health available across our site.