CHN’s Podcast Episode 4: Housing is Health Care, and Finding the Political Will to End Homelessness


August 31, 2021

Episode Summary

In this episode of the Voices for Human Needs podcast, we discuss issues of housing, health care, and policy to address the challenges for those experiencing poverty and facing homelessness. Listeners will hear from two members of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council: Dr. Courtney Plasden from Portland, Maine, the council’s clinical director, and Art Rios Sr., the Chair of the National Health Care Consumer Advisory Board based out of Portland, Oregon. Courtney and Art share how their lived experiences with homelessness influence their ongoing work providing direct services to homeless populations both before, and during, the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In addition, we are joined by Steve Berg, the Vice President of Policy and Programs at the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington D.C. Steve shares how advocates at the grassroots and federal levels must continue to push forward policies during the budget reconciliation process and economic recovery legislation that could make a real difference in the lives of those at risk of, or facing, homelessness. 

All three speakers encourage listeners to contact their elected officials during the budget process to let them know that investing in programs and policies to combat homelessness is an issue of importance to their constituents. Steve Berg emphasizes the power that constituents have to influence the political will of their elected officials and their response to homelessness in their communities: “People have gotten so used to the idea that there are hundreds of thousands of people around the country at any given time who are living in a shelter or living on the street- it does not have to be this way. And in times of prosperity in a prosperous, rich country, there’s no reason it has to be that way. People just have to make it clear to their elected officials that [allowing homelessness to continue in their communities] is not okay…and it needs to stop, and the resources are there to do that.” 

How to Listen

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Housing is Health care

Before the pandemic, homelessness was on the rise with over a half million people experiencing homelessness annually in America according to Point-In-Time Counts reported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 70% of those experiencing homelessness as of January 2020 were individuals, with the rest being families with children. 

This data was collected just before the COVID-19 pandemic and does not reflect the effects that social distancing measures have had on the reduced capacity for many facilities serving those who are homeless, or the elevated rates of unemployment and job losses tied to the recession. 57.1% of personal bankruptcies are due to medical bills, so losing one’s job, and therefore, health insurance, is often the tipping point into personal debt, eviction, and homelessness, highlighting a huge flaw in our country’s approach to human infrastructure and health care. 

Keeping people in their homes, off the streets, and out of shelters has been seen as the right public health response to mitigating the transmission of COVID-19. But to further health equity for all–during a pandemic or not– providing safe and secure housing is always a top priority for human needs advocates.

Dr. Courtney Plasden notes that while housing is health care, “we can’t wait for health care until someone is housed. We need to make sure that [those experiencing homelessness] have health care, whether that’s on the street, whether that’s in a health center, whether that’s in a mobile unit, whether that’s virtual care, whether that’s medical respite.”

Art Rios Sr., a consumer at his local Health Care for the Homeless Clinic discusses the increased challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to providing health care services to those without safe and stable housing in his community: “We have seen the rise of homeless folks on our streets here in Portland, Oregon. The city took a very aggressive way of moving [homeless people out with day-today sweeps of camp sites], and when that happened, it was very hard for us to get our health care services to folks because they were constantly getting moved.”

Actions You Can Take Now

Now is the time for listeners like you to contact your elected representatives by phone, social media, or signing onto action letters urging them to vote for legislation during the budget reconciliation process that invests in housing and homelessness programs including affordable housing, expansion of housing vouchers, and home and community-based health care services.

Find actions you can take below, starting with forwarding this podcast episode to a friend, or colleague! 


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Housing and Homelessness