Bridge Housing: Connecting the Homeless to Housing After Hospitalization

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The recent 2015 homeless count conducted by the Los Angeles HousingServices Authority showed a staggering 44,359 homeless individuals in LA County, a 12% increase in the last two years. Although partly due to a change in methodology, the count is seen as more accurate than ever before. In addition, LA’s chronic homeless population has grown to 12,536 since 2013, accounting for more than 1/3 of the Nation’s chronically homeless. Many of these individuals are plagued by chronic health issues, frequently sending them to the hospital for care.

At the core of these individuals’ health issues is their lack of housing. Social determinants of health tell us that housing equals health. But to help these individuals make the transition into a home, it takes more than finding a vacancy.

Each year, National Health Foundation (NHF) provides recuperative care to more than 1,000 homeless patients who have been safely discharged from partnering hospitals. Recuperative care provides homeless patients with a safe place to heal while receiving comprehensive care management. Often during their stay in recuperative care, clients experience a disruption in homelessness and, if they were not already, become willing to participate in the process to secure housing. When the client is interested, securing housing is a goal. However, funding for recuperative care rarely last more than 14 days and this is often not enough time to connect a client to needed housing resources, let alone transition them into their new home. If a client is forced to return to the street while waiting to transition, their chances for a successful move diminish.

Through its bridge housing program, NHF is able to provide these individuals with additional or “bridge” time in the recuperative care center. During their lengthened stay, they receive help with applications for birth certificates, identification cards, and applications for state and federal benefit programs. Connections are made to medical homes and referrals are made to substance abuse and/or mental health programs and social support groups. Clients have a safe, clean place to stay while waiting for their home to become available. When the time comes, bridge housing clients receive comprehensive discharge instructions and continued follow-up for six or 12 months post-transition.

Bridge housing makes transitioning into a home more feasible for homeless clients and is more economical for the community. According to the Los Angeles United Way Homeless Cost Study (2011), the total cost of public services for two years on the streets was estimated at $187,288 compared to $107,032 for two years in permanent housing with support services—a savings of $80,256 or almost 43%. But more than that, housing the homeless resolves one of their biggest barriers to a healthy life.

With support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Ahmanson Foundation and the Harold Edelstein Foundation, NHF is implementing the bridge housing program with a goal to place 150 clients in permanent or permanent supportive housing over two years.