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OR Organizations Work at Nexus of Health and Housing

Oregon's care organizations have launched the "Housing is Health" initiative to fight homelessness. (Tony Webster/Flickr)
Oregon's care organizations have launched the "Housing is Health" initiative to fight homelessness. (Tony Webster/Flickr)
April 19, 2019

PORTLAND, Ore. – Health care doesn't stop after a person leaves the doctor's office. Factors outside of the traditional care setting such as housing play a pivotal role in a person's overall health.

Michael Mellick, a housing case manager with CareOregon, says anybody who has experienced chronic homelessness most likely experiences other issues as well.

"It's safe to assume they're going to have substance-use dependence issues, which we try to help them with,” says Mellick. “There's mental-health issues that often come into play. There are criminal background involvement issues that have to be remedied."

Addressing social determinants such as adequate housing are mandates for coordinated care organizations, which manage the Oregon Health Plan in local communities.

In Portland, six health organizations, including CareOregon and Kaiser Permanente, launched the "Housing is Health" initiative in 2016. Funding from it has supported two developments for low-income tenants, and another project is scheduled to open this summer.

Housing is Health is one part of CareOregon's response to housing issues. Case managers such as Mellick help non-residential clients look for solutions to their unique needs.

He describes a client who had lived on the streets for two years with a chronic lung disease. After helping to clear up his legal issues, Mellick found housing for the client.

He says the man is older and in a vulnerable position, and housing is helping to extend his life.

"He continues to engage in behaviors that aren't necessarily the healthiest for him but his utilization and the cost of his care drastically decreased for the simple fact that he was now sleeping inside in a warm, safe place,” says Mellick.

Mellick says one common thread among clients is a feeling of isolation. It can come from a variety of sources, such as trauma at an early age or the effects of racism or poverty.

He says addressing this could make for a better society.

"You're not just ending with the individual,” says Mellick. “You're looking at the individual's relationship with community. Healing, recovery, renewal. It goes back to the notion of relationships and the person's place in the community."

Disclosure: CareOregon contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR