The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, New Jersey Department of Human Services, Camden County Board of Freeholders, local hospitals, Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, Southern NJ Continuum of Care and local housing providers announced the launch of a collaborative effort to reduce homelessness in Camden County, at Cooper University Hospital on February 23, 2015.
Housing First is an innovative, evidence-based approach to ending homelessness that has been effective in communities across the country. These programs have been successful in keeping the costliest, most vulnerable, long-term and chronically homeless patients stably housed, dramatically reducing unnecessary hospitalizations, emergency room visits and incarcerations. A decade of evidence has shown that it is more expensive to keep a homeless person on the streets than it is to get someone into permanent housing, through a Housing First approach.
“The application process for obtaining housing often creates barriers that are difficult to overcome, resulting in chronic homelessness,” said Jeffrey C. Brenner, MD, Director of the Urban Health Institute at Cooper University Health Care and Executive Director of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers. “This program flips the old housing model on its head. By providing housing first to individuals experiencing homelessness and providing support services to keep them in housing, you can dramatically reduce homelessness and reduce costs. Housing First is a crucial strategy in reducing the over-utilization of health care services and reducing health care costs.”
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and the New Jersey Department of Human Services are committing 50 vouchers for a Housing First project for high utilizers of the health care system in Camden County. A competitive RFP process is expected to open in March 2015, with an expected launch date in July 2015.
The Camden County Freeholder Board will invest $100,000 of funding from the Homeless Trust Fund into the new strategy. Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services, talked about the importance of the topic and the ability to make real change with a Housing First model.
“I believe the new initiative will have an instant impact on the overall homeless population throughout the county and allow us, as a region, to start making real change on this issue,” Rodriguez said. “The implementation of this program will start us on the path to ending homelessness in Camden County and I’m proud to stand with all participants that are making Housing First a reality.”
Financial support from Cooper and Virtua will also help launch the program.
“We know that cutting through the red tape to get homeless citizens into housing will have a significant impact on the health and well-being of these citizens, and the community they live in,” said Richard E. Constable, III, Esq., Commissioner of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. “This program will allow true cost savings for New Jersey while helping one of the most vulnerable populations in our state.”
In addition to this pilot project, the Camden County Housing First Transformation Project will bring together stakeholders from across the city, county and state to participate in a quarterly leadership council to coordinate efforts to continue to invest in Housing First and to shift the local ecosystem towards a focus on permanent housing for the most vulnerable and expensive individuals. It will also convene a learning collaborative for staff and leaders from local housing and service providers to develop the skills and capacity to serve the most vulnerable homeless individuals through high-fidelity Housing First programs. The Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) will be providing this training and technical assistance.
“In our Emergency Department and many of our Camden-based outpatient offices, we see first-hand the effects of homelessness every day,” said Adrienne Kirby, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cooper University Health Care. “Follow-up is complicated when people have no permanent address. Patients also face repeat hospitalizations for chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes that could be managed on an outpatient basis, but aren’t, due to the instability in their lives. We feel this initiative will make a substantial impact on allowing us to provide more stable health care for this population of patients who need our care.”
“From Virtua’s experience in caring for patients in our Camden emergency room and family health center, we whole-heartedly endorse this innovative program that will integrate housing opportunities and personalized management of health care services for these 50 homeless individuals and expect it to have a profound positive impact on their lives,” said Al Campanella, Executive Vice President of Virtua.
Mayor Redd said about the project, “This is a transformative moment for Camden. We need to embrace new models to solve long-standing complex problems like homelessness. I am proud to support this initiative.”
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