Huffpost Impact
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Deborah De Santis Headshot

Housing the Most Vulnerable Saves Lives

Posted: Updated:

Are we making a difference in the world? What is the impact of all our hard work? How do we know that what we do matters? As the year comes to a close, we all ask ourselves these questions. We take stock. After all, it's easy to get caught up in the hustle of our lives and the day-to-day challenges of our work, and forget what all that effort is really for.

I am lucky enough to be surrounded at the Corporation for Supportive Housing by constant reminders, including a story told to me by Liz Drapa, Director of the CSH Consulting Group.

One morning, while volunteering for Chicago's 100,000 Homes Campaign registry week, Liz met a man named Jerry*.

Sixty-years old, Jerry uses a cane to shuffle around the streets of Chicago's "Little Poland" -- the streets that he calls home. Four years ago, Jerry suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side and feeling like his body is broken. When he sleeps on concrete, he says the arthritis in his back gets worse and he's sure he doesn't have much time left to live. But he wants to live his remaining days well: Jerry wants a home. Nothing too fancy or too big, "just something by winter," he said. "And not another nursing home."

For Jerry and too many others like him, the need for housing is literally a life-or-death issue. We call these men and women "medically vulnerable," meaning they have a high probability of dying early as a direct result of their health problems and homelessness. CSH believes that everyone -- including these sick and suffering individuals -- deserve a home where they have the support they need to tackle whatever challenges they face.

The key to making that happen is affordable housing linked to services: supportive housing. We know that supportive housing works to end homelessness for people with multiple disabilities, medical problems and other barriers to housing stability. That's why CSH is a proud co-sponsor of Common Ground's 100,000 Homes Campaign, which seeks to identify and house 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless people in our country in three years. We're putting front and center the need to target supportive housing units to those who need it most.

In Jerry's hometown of Chicago, a survey of more than 700 homeless people found 42 percent were medically vulnerable and one in five had been in and out of hospitals or emergency rooms three times in the last year. The good news is that Chicago has committed to housing 125 people found to be medically vulnerable this year -- and even more in 2011. Other cities across the country have made similar commitments, standing behind the 100,000 Homes Campaign's commitments to provide easy access to housing and supportive services to those who need it most.

For Jerry, it's more personal. Supportive housing can provide him a warm, safe home for the cold Chicago winter, a place to store his belongings, a case manager to help him get connected to health care services and a clock so he can remember to take his medication on time. "I can't wait for housing," Jerry told Liz when they met. CSH, Common Ground and our Chicago partners agreed and we prioritized him for housing. Today, Jerry lives indoors at the YMCA, where he has all the things he needs to live well for as long as he can.

And that's how I know what we do matters. When I take stock at the end of this year, I count all of the new homes we're working so hard to create and all the services we gather for residents in need. And I count Jerry. He is just one among the thousands of people for whom CSH and supportive housing has made a difference this year.

*Not his real name