On Monday, February 23, leaders representing a cross-section of state and local government, health care and community-based groups met at Cooper University Hospital’s Roberts Pavilion Lobby to kick-off Camden County’s Housing First initiative aimed at housing 50 homeless, high utilizers of hospital systems over the next two years. CSH is one of the partners implementing this initiative in Camden.
The pilot program, once approved, will provide supportive housing and critical support services for 50 chronically homeless, high-cost users of health care using Housing Choice vouchers provided by the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and Department of Human Services (DHS). Camden County's Homeless Trust Fund, Virtua Foundation and Cooper Health System have committed to contributing funds to pay for needed support services.
Housing First, an innovative, evidence-based approach to ending homelessness by homeless people into housing with low barriers has been effective in communities across the country and a successful approach in keeping the costliest, most vulnerable, long-term and chronically homeless patients stably housed – dramatically reducing hospitalizations, emergency room visits and incarcerations.
Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, Founder and Executive Director of the Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers compared the current way we address homelessness to the ineffective ancient practices of physicians not washing their hands and bloodletting – the process of using leeches to withdraw blood to cure or prevent illness – both practices he adds, took over 100 years to change. “We know enough to cure homelessness so there is no justification for continuing our current models and funding streams … we should be shifting our model and funding streams to Housing First” he added that “I hope it doesn’t take another 100 years for us to change our models in how we address homelessness”.
Kristin Miller, Director at CSH spoke at the launch event. CSH will assist with the successful implementation of the pilot program working closely with a coalition of Camden County stakeholders led by the Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers. Kristin noted the impressive mix of diverse stakeholders joined together in support of this pilot, acknowledging that this type of community support is often the most challenging to acquire and most important. Kristin went on to address the many benefits of the Housing First model “Housing First benefits more than just the individuals we house… it’s going help the people who work in the hospitals who are frustrated because they are seeing the same individuals again and again with no improvements to their care, it’s going to help government realize improved outcomes and better return on investments.”
Other speakers at the event included Charles Richman, Deputy Commissioner, NJ Department of Community Affairs and Janel Winter, Director of Housing at the NJ Deptartment of Human Services – both reaffirming their respective agency’s commitment to the pilot. Charles Richman added that this Housing First pilot announcement is one of many initiatives their agency plans to undertake in the coming months including housing initiatives aimed at homeless veterans and households at-risk of losing custody of their children. Camden County Freeholder, Carmen Rodriguez stated that this pilot had the unanimous support of both the County’s Homelessness Trust Fund Task Force and the Freeholder Board committing $100,00 a year for the next three years to the pilot.
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