In Houston, Housing The Homeless Has Reduced ER Usage By 82%

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A pilot program in Houston has resulted in chronic ER visits by 82 percent.

Houston, Texas joins a growing list of communities that understanding providing homes to the homeless is an effective and cost-efficient way to address the ever-present issue.

[The program is called] Integrated Care for the Chronically Homeless, which combined the forces of [Healthcare for the Homeless-Houston], a social services provider called SEARCH Homeless Services, and New Hope Housing. Under the project terms, people who are chronically homeless and have at least three emergency department visits over two years are placed in permanent supportive housing units, where they receive a variety of services to help keep them there.

The program seems to be working well thus far:

Clients who have been enrolled for two years have seen an 82 percent decline in emergency room usage. [Francis] Isbell said one client went to the emergency department 122 times in the year before he was admitted. Once he had housing, he still was a frequent emergency department visitor —averaging 12 visits a year over three years — but Houston’s health care system was still saving money.

The program now serves nearly 200 people spread across four Houston housing complexes that cater to people with low incomes. There are limits to what it can accomplish and not everyone in the program gets better.

But for some, it’s been life changing. [Andrea Piro, a registered nurse with Healthcare for the Homeless-Houston] said one of her clients landed a job with IBM and now has a higher income than she does.

In order to keep the program going, organizers are moving to document its success in hopes of not only acquiring further funding but possible expansion. If the right measure with enough evidence makes it before the state legislature next year (they next convene in 2019), the program could possibly be implemented across the state.

The pool of waiver money that the program relies on ends in four years. To keep the project going in Houston and to scale it up across the state, Isbell and others working on it will have to prove it’s worth the state’s investment.