Housing is what I love. I never thought about doing anything else since my first day in grad school. That is why many people thought I was losing it when I left my job in Seattle and moved to Phoenix to work for the Medicaid department. However; working for a Medicaid agency has completely changed my perspective on the residents and communities that we serve. My thought processes on how we ensure residents in subsidized housing programs succeed now start with mental and physical well being. Lets examine this a bit more.
Since I started working in affordable housing, I spent a lot of my time working on resident issues. This work ranged from teaching Ready to Rent to doing Family Self-Sufficiency work. I also ran a caseload in Tacoma for persons who were formerly homeless. Many of the individuals I worked with were single women with kids. Almost all of them had escaped domestic violence. I helped many of these women find jobs but often found that they were not quite ready to be working. I did the same with the FSS program and other similar work initiatives. We saw some successes but a lot of ups and downs for the most part. I now realize how under-equipped and under-educated I was in my assessment of what I should be doing. Behavioral and physical health are the two largest barriers to our residents leading success and fulfilling lives.
Without Health Forget Self-Sufficiency
If you are not well, how are you going to concern yourself with an education or a career? The basics of life are having a roof over your head, food to eat and your physical and mental health. Working in a large PHAs like Seattle and Tacoma allowed me to see many residents who clearly had mental health issues. You see it in anti-social behavior. You see in hoarding. You see it in isolation. You see it when behavior leads to health and safety issues like fires and extreme unit damage. It is unreasonable to ask anyone to increase their earned income or find a job when untreated physical and mental health issues are present. There is a lot of effort and employment and education in the form of ROSS and FSS grants through HUD. I would opine that the same if not more emphasis should be given to the mental and physical well being of our residents. If you want to see true transformation, help people recover and feel their best first!
I Prescribe You Housing:
The health care industry is really starting to realize the importance of housing for the overall health of individuals. Health plans, Medicaid agencies and insurers are investing in housing for a great multitude of reasons. Housing authorities may not be in a place to treat physical and mental health but there are plenty of public health and health plans willing to partner with you. Solid housing is the bedrock for the recovery of many individuals. If partnering with healthcare is not in your strategic plan, get back to the drawing board and insert it. It is the right thing to do for your tenants and it will have the largest impact of any initiative you could possibly put in place to help those who live in your units and use your vouchers.
I feel lucky that I found a position in Arizona that allows me to continue to work in affordable housing while also learning the behavioral health system. I should state that I could work here for 10 years and never truly learn everything , but this position has allowed me to understand how it operates from a high level. I learn everyday from experts within the Medicaid system, experts at our health plans, providers and people who have been working in mental health and housing who are in many ways ahead of their time. Get in touch with the healthcare industry in your area and start forming partnerships!