As the nation’s homeless and unsheltered population continues to climb, Health Care Service Corporation is working with community organizations to help shelter housing-insecure individuals and provide them with job training and support on their path toward stability.
The number of chronically homeless individuals reached record highs in 2022, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Homeless services continue to expand the number of temporary and permanent beds, but resources still fall short of curbing the problem.
In New Mexico, HCSC works with a program called ABQ StreetConnect to secure emergency and long-term housing for Centennial Medicaid members like Melissa Hutton, who struggled to find housing and stability for years before the program set her up with lodging in Albuquerque.
“I would have been dead on the street, but they got me into a motel. I call them my guardian angels,” says Hutton, who now lives in an apartment in Albuquerque. “They have been an absolute blessing to me and a lot of other people in this building.”
ABQ StreetConnect, operated by the nonprofit Heading Home, also helps connect participants to medical and behavioral health care, income and family support services, and other resources to ensure individuals can focus on their health goals and utilize preventive, rather than emergency, health care services.
Their efforts are paying off. New Mexico health plan members participating in ABQ StreetConnect between January 2021 and June 2023 had a 55% drop in emergency department visits across several Albuquerque-area hospitals. During that same period, behavioral health admissions dropped from 46 admissions to 17, and behavioral health readmissions declined 71% from 17 to five.
ABQ StreetConnect has enrolled 237 unique participants since it was founded in 2017, and New Mexico health plan members can at times account for up to 70 of the program’s participants, says ABQ StreetConnect Executive Director, Jodie Jepson, who founded the program.
HCSC is tackling similar issues through Illinois health plan partnerships.
With the support of a $40,000 award through HCSC’s major grant program, Lazarus House in Kane County, Illinois, is continuing to offer emergency and long-term transitional living, substance misuse support, daily meals, individual case management and other services to housing-insecure and other vulnerable residents.
During their 2023 fiscal year, Lazarus House cared for 147 individuals and provided more than 13,500 nights of shelter. Last year, 92% of participants actively engaged in case management, which includes weekly meetings to discuss their situation and develop a path toward stability.
Additionally, 84% engaged in meaningful, necessary support for wellness needs, and 77% increased their income.
“Our major grant program is one of many ways HCSC collaborates with local nonprofit organizations and invests in the communities we serve,” says Clarita Santos, executive director, Corporate & Civic Partnerships at HCSC. “We are proud to support organizations such as ABQ StreetConnect and Lazarus House who are committed to providing unsheltered populations with essential resources for their health and well-being”.
HCSC’s health plans in Montana, Oklahoma and Texas are partnering with local nonprofits and coalitions to provide low-income residents with job training and opportunities to achieve a more stable future.
For example, Missoula Economic Partnership in Montana will offer job training to single mothers and expand development in clean energy. As part of Missoula’s Clean Energy Workforce Coalition, MEP is launching a pilot program focused on creating clean-energy careers and increasing access to support services for low-income women and women of color.
The coalition has also partnered with Mountain Home Montana, a nonprofit that provides housing and support for young mothers, to offer job training and a path toward stability.
“Offering that stability in housing and gainful employment is huge,” says MEP spokeswoman Chelsea Rabideau. “These are all parts of the work we do, building bridges with local governments and local businesses to support businesses and provide good-paying jobs.”
In San Antonio, Texas, nonprofit Project Quest is providing career coaching and tuition, transportation and food assistance to prepare adults for better-paying and more highly skilled jobs. The Texas health plan awarded Project Quest with a $25,000 grant to help about 2,500 people annually get the skills they need to increase their wages, better support their families and buy homes.
“We’re serving that individual as well as helping the whole family get to a place of opportunity so they can confidently provide for the family for generations to come,” says Francisco Martinez, Project Quests’ community partnership director, adding Project Quest graduates see wage increases as much as 200%.
A nine-year study by the Economic Mobility Corporation comparing a group of people who participated in Project Quest with a group who did not showed Quest graduates earned $5,000 more annually.
In Oklahoma, the Tulsa Higher Education Consortium is leveraging the power of peer support to expose local high school students to medical career pathways and close health care gaps in Tulsa-area communities.
With the help of a $20,000 grant from HCSC’s Oklahoma health plan, the consortium is continuing its six-month paid Campus Ambassador Medical fellowship. Students perform virtual assignments to better understand medical careers and then travel in-person to consortium colleges and learn directly from experts.
“Ultimately, we want our students to self-invest in Tulsa and their own communities,” says Aaron Wilson, director of Programs and Scholarships at the Tulsa Higher Education Consortium. “Tulsa is growing, and we have great opportunities and pathways. We want to make sure we’re helping our students navigate those pathways.”