Health and housing go hand in hand. Living on the streets or in shelters exposes people to violence, communicable diseases, malnutrition and stress. Substance abuse, depression and other mental health issues can begin or be made worse. Homelessness both exacerbates and creates health problems, and here in California, the situation is critical.
As a foundation charged with improving the health of Californians, this issue is clearly on our radar. But, in reality, it is not just one issue, but many. Homeless people cannot be lumped into one monolithic group. Our grantmaking focuses on populations that have high rates of homelessness but different types of challenges, such as formerly incarcerated adults, resilient youth, military veterans, boys and men of color, and women. Together, our grantees tackle the problem from different angles, such as providing health care, helping people find and keep employment, removing barriers to education, and advocating for policies that would make it easier to find pathways out of homelessness.
Community clinics, in particular, are on the front lines of providing care to people without stable housing. An example is the API Wellness Center, a Cal Wellness grantee located in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco that serves a significant number of homeless individuals. With a special focus on people of color and on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, the clinic not only provides medical treatment, but also engages in health education and connects patients to counseling, case management and community services.
Another grantee, Los Angeles Christian Health Centers, provides oral health care to homeless and uninsured adults in the Skid Row area. Clinic staff report that providing dentures is the most transformative service they provide, bringing instant relief to people who have lived for many years with missing teeth, restoring their ability to eat fruits and vegetables, and helping them grow in self-confidence.
Beyond direct health care, we also know we also need to take a long view. Stable housing is needed to truly recuperate from chronic health problems and prevent future threats to wellness — and a good job is one of the most effective strategies for preventing housing instability. That’s why we invest in organizations that help people obtain and maintain employment.
One such grantee is Women’s Empowerment in Sacramento, which provides a desperately needed support system to homeless women who have experienced domestic abuse, incarceration, mental health challenges and/or difficulties providing for their children’s needs. Services include counseling, career mentoring, peer support and job training, as well as continuing assistance for those who have obtained employment, such financial literacy education, certification programs and additional job training.
And using an even wider lens, Cal Wellness focuses on post-secondary education as a pathway to employment for homeless youth. One of our grantees, Jovenes, Inc., is developing and implementing the College Success Initiative, which provides supportive housing services for homeless youth and foster youth enrolled in community colleges in East and South Los Angeles. Another Cal Wellness grantee, the California State Library, through its California Homeless Youth Project, is identifying barriers to post-secondary education experienced by homeless youth and formulating policy recommendations to address those barriers.
We are proud of the work our grantees are doing, and there are many successes to celebrate. People are fighting their way out of homelessness every day. But we know that much, much more needs to be done. That is why we are always exploring new ideas and collaborations, as well as continuing to fund the “tried and true” approaches that have proven successful — because the faces of the homeless are many, and each one deserves a chance to live a healthy and productive life.