Housing is “affordable” when the occupants pay no more than 30 percent of their total income on rent and utilities; or, if the occupants own their own home, they pay no more than 35 percent of their total income on their mortgage payment, insurance, taxes and utilities. In the St. Mary Medical Center service area, 48.7 percent of households spend 30 percent or more of their household income on rent. In our most recent community health needs assessment, participants discussed the challenges that families face when they have to pay excessive amounts of their income for housing, leaving them with insufficient funds to meet other essential needs including food, medical insurance, and health care.
St. Mary Medical Center recognized the importance of developing a strategy to provide low-income families with greater access to affordable housing and residential stability in our service area. St. Mary’s work on affordable housing started almost 10 years ago when we initiated a partnership with Bucks County Housing Group to fund a supportive housing program for expectant mothers and their families facing eviction. The theme of “my eviction date and my due date” was becoming all too common. The goal of our housing program is to provide a safe space where low-income families can develop a plan and receive the necessary supports to secure permanent and sustainable housing. Clients are supported through housing and intensive case management services while they pursue an education or job-training program that will allow them to earn enough income to support their family. St. Mary continues to fund 20 apartments using various supportive housing models including Housing First, Transitional Housing and Permanent Supportive Housing for the chronically homeless.
Accumulating evidence shows that supportive interventions directed toward the social and environmental barriers faced by patients can influence health outcomes and health care spending. Over the last six years, St. Mary witnessed evidence first hand of how our supportive housing program helped 259 families (760 individuals) take steps to move onto self-sufficiency and sustainable housing. On average, 38 percent completed associate’s degrees or certificate programs, and an average of 59 percent were employed either full-time or part-time. While in the program, between 36 percent of those in permanent supportive housing and 58 percent in transitional housing increased their income level. In addition, 80 percent went on to find sustainable housing.
We partnered with the county to establish our first centralized point of information, assessment, and referral services system for all Bucks County residents experiencing a housing-related crisis. The assessment centers effectively leverage community resources by utilizing case managers from five local non-profit social service agencies. Recent data from this centralized intake system has shown that 64 percent of households identified as needing only short-term rental assistance and “light” case management to resolve their housing crisis. This data guided our next investment to expand grant support to include funds for Diversion Case Management Services, which aim to prevent homelessness by providing resources to families who can resolve their crisis more quickly while enabling those with high vulnerability to access shelter and long-term case management more readily.
St. Mary is in contact with the county and other human services partners to move to a Coordinated Funding Model. We also are in the early planning stages to implement an “Anchor Mission of Healthcare” model.
Contact: Karen O’Donnell
Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations