Delaware State University researchers to study initiative bringing housing and health care to people experiencing homelessness

The $300,000 study will evaluate Catholic Charities’ Healthy Housing Initiative, which aims to combat homelessness through collaboration.

Delaware State University

Delaware State University's campus. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A new effort to facilitate collaboration between health care groups and housing agencies aims to help people experiencing homelessness with both issues. Researchers at Delaware State University will use $300,000 from Catholic Charities USA to determine how successful that collaboration is.

Catholic Charities’ Healthy Housing Initiative works with groups in five cities: Las Vegas; Detroit; St. Louis; Portland, Oregon; and Spokane, Washington. Over three years, DSU’s researchers will use tools from the school’s Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research Center to analyze health and housing data from each city and evaluate the experiences of patients and caseworkers involved in the initiative.

“It’s really something aligned with what we envision in the university,” said lead researcher Xuanren Goodman. “They combine housing and health care, which is a very unique approach to solve homelessness.”

The initiative was created by Catholic Charities in 2020 with three goals — to reduce chronic homelessness by 20%, decrease repeat hospital visits by people experiencing homelessness by 25%, and connect 35% of recently housed individuals with primary care and behavioral health services in each pilot city. The researchers will help the agency track its progress towards its 2025 benchmark.

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Ben Wortham, Catholic Charities’ vice president of behavioral health integration, hopes the study produced by Goodman’s team will provide an incentive for health care providers to work with agencies providing housing to people experiencing homelessness.

“Through our study with Delaware State University, what we’re hoping the quantitative data looks like will be a decrease in cost to the health care system,” he said. “And we’re talking saving of millions for those individuals who are chronically using the ER before they were housed. At the end, we’re hoping to say, ‘Hey, let’s make a national case to show when hospital systems invest in housing that goes a long way.’”

Goodman hopes the study will provide incentives for local organizations to adopt similar programs.

“If this is a success, I feel we should be able to see more programs similar to this across the U.S. — not just in Spokane, not just in Vegas, but in Dover, but in Philadelphia,” she said.

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