December 23, 2020

Grants strengthen COVID-19 response in homeless communities

Kaiser Permanente provides grants to support critical local needs in our most vulnerable communities.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, G.E. was staying at A-SPAN’s Homeless Services Center, a facility in Arlington County, Virginia, that combines year-round shelter with supportive services including meals and medical respite. G.E., whose initials are being used to maintain her privacy, is grateful for A-SPAN’s medical assistance in helping her manage her health conditions, including kidney failure. In her case, quarantine space was needed.

“My health is very fragile,” she said. “I am at high risk for developing complications if I were to contract COVID-19.”

To help protect our most vulnerable communities, Kaiser Permanente provided 46 grants that total $6.3 million to strengthen COVID-19 prevention and response for people experiencing homelessness across our regions and markets. This vital funding enables communities to respond to specific local needs, like expanding testing, increasing staff capacity for symptom monitoring, enhancing coordination with local public health departments, and building capacity for health care providers who serve the homeless.

These grants were part of a total of $131 million in grant funding in the third quarter to improve community health, with $34.5 million dedicated toward housing-related needs.

Because of Kaiser Permanente’s support, A-SPAN and other organizations have been able to effectively respond to the needs of people experiencing homelessness and minimize the spread of COVID-19, delivering services safely under stringent COVID-19 guidelines. A-SPAN quickly moved G.E. and others like her into quarantine space once the pandemic struck. In addition to food and shelter, A-SPAN ensured that she had safe access to medical treatment, including dialysis three times a week.

“Kaiser Permanente recognizes the need to support our most vulnerable populations during this challenging time,” said Cynthia Telles, PhD, Community Health Committee chair for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals boards of directors. “People experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity are at greater risk of contracting or transmitting the virus due to crowded living conditions, challenges to hygiene and sanitation, and underlying chronic health conditions.”

Housing is essential to health

The exacerbating effects of COVID-19 on the homeless population also highlight that we are in the midst of a health equity crisis on top of the health crisis brought on by the pandemic. Communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and experience higher rates of unemployment because of it, are also disproportionately impacted by homelessness. For example, African Americans, who represent 13% of the general population, account for 40% of people experiencing homelessness.

“By bringing together the unique strengths of the health and housing sectors, Kaiser Permanente can strengthen neighborhoods, improve health, and help communities thrive,” said Bechara Choucair, MD, senior vice president and chief health officer. “Kaiser Permanente is committed to addressing affordable housing and homelessness to improve the health outcomes of the 68 million people who live in the communities we serve.”

Additional grants awarded in the third quarter of 2020 support:

  • COVID-19 multicultural education designed to reach Black and Latinx individuals and communities
  • Safety net telehealth and community health centers’ transition to high-quality virtual care
  • Economic opportunity, strengthening Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to confronting deep-rooted inequities across communities
  • Thriving Schools and its partnerships with institutions and organizations working on behalf of school health

A-SPAN was ultimately able to assist G.E. in securing her own apartment, where her risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 is dramatically reduced. The way G.E. sees it, “I would not be able to make it through the pandemic without A-SPAN’s help. A-SPAN has been able to keep me safe.”