Housing as health care

New community partnership helps reduce homelessness and medical costs

John Graves calls having a permanent home a “game-changer.” A computer security expert whose life took some unfortunate turns, Graves is back under his own roof after spending years in homeless encampments near Burlington. “Having a base of operations makes everything else possible,” he says.

Graves’ modest home at Beacon Apartments in South Burlington is made possible by the Champlain Housing Trust in partnership with Community Health Centers of Burlington, United Way of Northwest Vermont, the Burlington Housing Authority and The University of Vermont Medical Center.

If we’re going to keep people healthy and control costs, this kind of investment in community health is essential.

Stephen Leffler, MD, chief medical officer

The program also funds an on-site case manager who helps John and 18 other residents connect with doctors, social services and potential employers.

Proof of the positive impact of the collaboration comes from tracking homeless patients placed in temporary accommodations with support services. The cost of care at the UVM Medical Center for the people involved dropped 60 percent in one year. Homelessness in Chittenden County has fallen nearly 30 percent in recent years, partly due to this effort.

“If these folks have stable housing, they are much less likely to interact with the police, the courts and the emergency room, and that saves a lot of money,” says Michael Monte, chief financial and operating officer at Champlain Housing Trust.

“Most of someone’s health status depends on adequate housing, good food, recreation and a host of other non-medical factors,” explains Stephen Leffler, MD, chief medical officer at the UVM Medical Center. “So, if we’re going to keep people healthy and control costs, this kind of investment in community health is essential.”

Building on this success, the partnership is converting the Bel Aire motel in Burlington into temporary accommodations for patients currently living in the hospital who cannot be discharged because they lack adequate housing.

“The really nice part is that the humane thing to do turns out to be a really effective approach,” Monte adds.

As he gets settled, John Graves is feeling more confident about this challenging transition. “I think this is going to work in the long term. There will be a lot of options for jobs and other things I want to do once I get used to taking care of myself again.”

Learn more about John’s journey and the supportive housing initiative.