At Kim Wilson Housing (KWH), we have three guiding principles:
- Housing is the foundation for good health.
- Housing vulnerable people requires diverse, community-based collaborations and support services.
- Housing is cost-effective. Homelessness is not.
Last fall, as the holidays approached, each of these principles came into play when a woman called to see if we could help find a home for her homeless brother. KWH, which offers services in support of the metropolitan area’s efforts to end homelessness, was more than willing to help.
Jim (not his real name) lived with depression and had recently experienced a series of strokes that left him unable to work. Without a viable income he struggled to find stable housing. By the time his sister called, he had been sleeping on the streets in Kansas City.
From time to time, Jim would find temporary shelter, and even received enough charity assistance to live in an apartment. But when that assistance ran out, he was evicted. His strokes led to hospital stays and at least one stint in rehab. Although we don’t have exact figures for the cost of Jim’s homelessness, we do know that the shelter, the hospitalizations, the rehab, and even the eviction cost several different systems several thousand dollars, much of it due to the fact Jim did not have health insurance.
Our staff had just the tool for a situation like Jim’s: Beacon Homes. Funded by HUD, Beacon Homes is one of our key programs, allowing us to subsidize affordable housing units so that we can quickly find permanent homes for chronically homeless individuals. KWH partners with Wyandot Center (a sister organization in the Wyandot Behavioral Health Network) for case management and psychiatric services to ensure that newly-housed clients have enough support to stay in their homes.
To qualify for the program, clients must demonstrate that they have been homeless for a total of one year over the last three, and that they have a documented disability. Jim easily met the criteria, and by October he had an apartment of his own.
Jim was thrilled. He immediately started turning his apartment into a home. He wanted it to feel welcoming, and that included decorating for the holidays, his favorite time of the year. Years ago, before he’d become homeless, Jim had an entire storage unit filled with decorations. For this holiday season, he made the rounds at local thrift stores to replenish his old collection. He put up a tree, a wreath on the door, and strung lights on his porch. A former cook, he even made candies for our staff.
Some people take a long time to make their apartment their own. But not Jim. He got settled right away.
When I think about that phrase — getting settled — others come to mind: being comfortable, achieving stability, having a sense of well-being. These are certainly not phrases we think of when we see a homeless person hauling possessions in a grocery cart or makeshift tents under the Lewis and Clark Viaduct. And as essential as our temporary homeless shelters are, the sight of a dozen men or women sleeping on bunks in a single room does not cause us to think that these people are ‘settled.’ Especially when we know that they will be returning to the streets soon unless someone is able to find them permanent housing.
This is what Jim got: a permanent home. As a result, he is a living example of how housing saves our health systems money and, more important, provides the foundation for an individual’s good health. Because Jim is no longer homeless, he will receive more timely and less expensive medical care. He won’t have to worry about sub-freezing temperatures or the very real prospect of getting mugged. And even though he will still live with depression and the effects of his strokes, he will have support from KWH and Wyandot Center to make sure his recovery remains his primary focus — not the day-to-day struggle to find a place to sleep. He will have the solid foundation only a home can provide. He will have better health. I’m sure of it.
Kim Wilson Housing Inc. is a nonprofit organization in Kansas City, Kansas, that offers consulting and direct services in support of the metropolitan area’s efforts to end homelessness. It belongs to the Wyandot Behavioral Health Network, whose organizations collectively serve as Wyandotte County’s Community Mental Health Center. You can follow the organization on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.