There are any number of aspects that go into making sure we all lead healthy lives, but one of the most important factors in maintaining wellness might be something we don’t always consider: housing.
At Providence St. Joseph Health, however, focusing on the link between health and housing has become a key aspect of the way the organization cares for communities across the Western U.S., including in the Seattle metropolitan area. The organization fundamentally believes health is a human right. That’s why it assists the homeless population in the area, often through funding local partners and agencies, but also tries to intervene in situations where homelessness can be avoided entirely.
“We believe housing and health are inextricably linked,” says Mike Butler, Providence St. Joseph Health’s president of strategy and operations. “We say ‘housing is health’ because it is difficult to impossible to enjoy health and well-being without a stable home base. Housing is a basic social need that must be met for people to live their healthiest lives.”
What can a health-care organization do to address a problem like homelessness? As it turns out, quite a lot. This year, Providence St. Joseph Health, in partnership with Swedish and Premera, donated a combined $15 million toward battling chronic homelessness in the Seattle area. It has also helped fund the development of shelters in King County, supported community benefits programs that invest in temporary assistance for people at risk of losing their homes, and championed safe, affordable housing for low-income seniors in the area.
Considering its commitment to building strong communities, it’s only natural that Providence St. Joseph Health hasn’t done all of this work alone. The organization has partnered with respected local groups including Plymouth Housing and Catholic Community Services to focus its giving, but has also found allies in the music industry who have been instrumental in helping amplify its message.
“When you’re dealing with something as vital as the housing crisis it can take big voices to bring the awareness level needed,” Mary Renouf-Hanson, associate vice-president of Social and Influencer Strategy says. “That’s why working with artists like Pearl Jam and Dizzy Wright help get people talking about it and eventually taking action. Adding in people who are already taking big steps to make a difference and can build more visibility make the work easier in the long run. They can influence people easier than a health system can.”
Wright, the chart-topping hip-hop artist who has himself experienced homelessness, says, “I want people to know my story and be an example of someone who was able to push through. Living in a shelter isn’t about race or color, everyone goes through struggles but I want people to know they can get through anything, you just have to push through.”
It’s a message that deserves amplification. And when musicians use their platform to lend attention to a cause—like Pearl Jam has with homelessness in King County, a crisis the band raised $10.8 million to help address in 2018—it can galvanize their fan base to react in a variety of ways, from making donations or volunteering to sharing information and increasing awareness via social media. With that in mind, last year Providence St. Joseph Health donated a major gift to the band’s campaign, which culminated in two Seattle concerts—the group’s first in the city in five years—to raise awareness around the area’s housing crisis.
Joining Providence St. Joseph Health to help end homelessness, however, isn’t something only rock stars can do. Any individual looking to get involved can visit the Housing is Health website (www.psjhealth.org/housing-is-health) to access research and information on groups operating throughout the Western United States that could use their help. It’s a resource that makes it simple to find your own way to take action; as Butler says, “We are inviting everyone in the community, including major employers and businesses across the Western U.S., to get involved.”
Indeed, collaborating with the population it serves is among the most important aspects of Providence St. Joseph Health’s Housing is Health campaign. Community health needs assessments have helped Providence St. Joseph Health prioritize the most pressing issues—including secure and affordable housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and access to health care—in every region where it’s active. The group is now using those findings to help inform its investments and to build goals into its strategic planning for the years to come.
“Finding solutions for safe, affordable housing is the right thing to do,” says Butler. “For our family of organizations, and for future generations, it’s a moral imperative. We want to be agents of change for the greater good because we believe that health is a human right, and housing is health.”