April 3, 2023

Hospital patients who are homeless connected to housing

A Kaiser Permanente program connects patients experiencing homelessness to permanent housing and help for life’s problems.

Rosa Williams relaxes in her new 1-bedroom apartment in Sacramento, California, which she rented with help from Kaiser Permanente’s Project Home.

Becoming homeless and living in her car while trying to manage stage 3 kidney disease and diabetes was not something that Rosa Williams of Sacramento, California, thought could ever happen to her.

“I never thought I would be in that position,” the 60-year-old Williams said, her voice breaking as she recounted her move from Las Vegas to Sacramento, which she thought would be seamless and easy. “And the way people treated me? I get really emotional just thinking about it.”

Today, thanks to a new $2 million Kaiser Permanente program in the Sacramento area called Project Home, Williams has settled into a cozy 1-bedroom apartment in a senior living community.

Under the program, Kaiser Permanente care teams identify people in its Sacramento County emergency departments who are experiencing homelessness. They are screened and referred to the nonprofit Sacramento Covered, which operates Project Home specifically for Kaiser Permanente to address housing, social services, and medical care coordination.

“I went from living with my son to a hotel, and then I ran out of money and got very sick,” said Williams. “Just imagine me living in a car and being really sick with all my medications. It was horrible.”

Flexible funding for housing and services 

A social worker in the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center Emergency Department where Williams was seen referred her to Project Home. Flexible funding that Kaiser Permanente provides through the program helps people pay for credit checks, application fees, back rent, security deposits, and first and last month’s rent to obtain housing — barriers that could otherwise prevent them from finding a stable home.

“Luis from Project Home came to the parking lot where I was living in my car, evaluated me, and the next day put me in a hotel room,” said Williams. “Then he helped me get the place I am in now. I want people to know how much this program helps. They did such a great job.”

Project Home in 3 West Coast cities

The partnership with Sacramento Covered is part of a larger, $5.7 million Kaiser Permanente effort in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and the Salem, Oregon, area to offer housing services to people experiencing homelessness who are frequent patients in its emergency departments.

Since it started in 2022, the program has enrolled 97 people and placed 46 in housing across all 3 cities, according to Vanessa Davis, Housing for Health program lead at Kaiser Permanente.

“Kaiser Permanente believes that housing is health and a secure and stable place to live is key to a person’s ability to thrive,” said Davis. “We are getting medically vulnerable people connected to vital housing and social supports.”

Individual housing needs

Project Home Sacramento Project Manager Chris Baker said the assistance caters to the individual’s specific needs.

“We always try to make sure we set up people in a living situation that makes sense for them,” said Baker. “Some of it will be permanent, supportive housing with a case manager and some will be independent living, usually with Section 8 rental vouchers.”

Having medical care teams at Kaiser Permanente collaborate with housing and social service providers is critical for patients with complex and intertwined medical and social needs, added Davis.

“The care team knows a patient’s health needs and where they are staying, and that improves outreach and the ability to identify suitable housing options,” she said.

Brandon Pace, chief operating officer of Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, said the goal is to use a “housing first” approach to get people in a home right away, then refer them to social services, mental health, or substance abuse services.

“Part of our mission is to improve the health of the communities we serve,” said Pace. “We feel an obligation to help, so people don’t need emergency room services as often. And if we don’t also address their housing needs, their medical conditions will deteriorate.”

For Rosa Williams, the help she received from her case managers at Project Home made all the difference in the world.

“They made me believe in people again.”