Two of the most controversial and debated policy areas in California today are affordable housing and health care. But those two issues – and their solutions – are deeply linked.
In few places is that better illustrated than Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s Homeless Healthcare Program.
As a resident physician at VMC, I had the privilege of spending two weeks with the homeless program, rotating between clinics at the Reentry Resource Center (for those recently incarcerated), the Bill Wilson Center (for homeless youth), and several specifically for homeless residents. These included, in San Jose, the HomeFirst shelter on Little Orchard Street and the program’s clinic on Alexian Street, and at the Gilroy Compassion Center. We also treated seasonal farm workers in the fields and homeless patients on the streets.
At each site, I saw the value of providing housing, particularly for those who have complex medical needs — including addiction. A lack of housing meant patients didn’t have a safe place to store medications, couldn’t establish regular routines and were at risk of spending time with those who encouraged them to get back into using illicit substances.
Housing provides immediate stability and independence, and this stabilizing force can lead to vastly improved health outcomes.
Traditionally, housing programs for the homeless – particularly those run by the government – have required that patients “get clean” before they can earn housing. But that view has been changing.
A seminal study on homelessness in 2015, for instance, showed that patients randomized to housing-first care rather…
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