05/07/2020

The Road Ahead

From Perpetual Crisis to Thriving Inclusive Communities

Never in recent history has it been clearer our individual health and ability to thrive is inextricably linked to the overall health of our communities. For far too long people of color, persons experiencing homelessness, people living with disabilities, those with histories of involvement with the justice system and many others have been systematically ignored and marginalized. It is both heartbreaking and unsurprising that these same people are being disparately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

CSH board member, Roland Lamb, recently reminded me that we learned that lack of housing is a social determinant of illness, long before we learned that it was a social determinant of health. Today we are witnessing this in real time as COVID-19 spreads rapidly through institutions like nursing homes, shelters, veterans’ homes, mental health facilities, and group homes.

We already know people cycling through shelters, jails, emergency rooms, and other crisis settings incur enormous costs and poor outcomes. We also know that connecting such individuals with housing and supports can improve outcomes and ensure limited dollars are used effectively. Creating housing aligned with services at scale is critical to securing our public health infrastructure.

The looming question is; how do we get there? Today’s crisis presents an historic opportunity to transform all of our communities to places where everyone, particularly those with the greatest needs, have a real home and the support they need to thrive. Our goal must be to not only utilize the unprecedented funding coming as part of the COVID-19 response to implement short term solutions, but also to use it as a catalyst for long term solutions toward building inclusive communities that provide the housing, healthcare, food, employment, education, child care, outdoor space, and connection that we all need to be healthy and make meaningful progress in our lives.

A siloed approach to service delivery can no longer be the norm. Requiring individuals to run the gauntlet from shelter to emergency room to child welfare agency to food pantry to unemployment not only produces poor outcomes but wastes time and money. We must transform these systems to become more equitable, person centered, and collaborative.

While getting to the scale we need will call for a significant investment in resources, we also know that it will result in better outcomes, prevent future public health crises and generate new job opportunities in construction, human services, property management and beyond.

For the 1.1 million people currently inappropriately housed in institutions – we can do better.  We can treat the lack of housing as a public health issue.  And we can seize this opportunity to transform institutional care in our country.

Deb De Santis
President & CEO


This is the first in a series of blogs from our President & CEO on how we move to long term solutions when the crisis abates.

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