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Housing is healthcare (opinion)


Submitted by Josh McMullen, Northern Nevada HOPES

Josh McMullen stands at the entrance of Hope Springs, a bridge housing community in Reno, Nev.

Northern Nevada HOPES (HOPES) opened Hope Springs, our region’s first bridge housing community, six months ago and we’re getting ready for our first residents to graduate into permanent housing. 

Hope Springs is a first-of-its kind solution to our area’s housing and homelessness crisis; it is not a homeless shelter, but rather an intentional bridge housing community where prospective residents will be screened for readiness and be required to work their individualized care plan, while having access to HOPES’ wrap-around medical and wellness support services.

Hope Springs is run by HOPES and includes 30 units, in addition to a central facility with showers, restrooms, a kitchen and community space, including a garden and dog park. Residents will likely remain in the homes an average of five to eight months before moving to more permanent housing as they achieve milestones and ultimately graduate from the program. 

As the director of housing at HOPES and Hope Springs, I’m often asked why a healthcare organization offers housing services and why HOPES would open a bridge housing community for unsheltered individuals. The answer is simple: housing is healthcare. 

As a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) offering medical, behavioral health and wellness services to over 12,000 northern Nevadans, with 21% of our adult patients experiencing homelessness, our team has seen first-hand the connection between housing and health. It’s clear that homelessness puts one at risk for poor health due to exposure to the elements, infection or violence, as well as a lack of control over nutrition, personal hygiene and sleep. 

The psychological toll of surviving on the streets is as dire as the physical. Homelessness also complicates efforts to treat illness or injuries. Conversely, because half of all bankruptcies in the U.S. are caused by health problems, poor health puts one at risk for homelessness. 

The vegetable garden at Hope Springs with sleeping units seen in the background. Image: Northern Nevada HOPES

When there is a lack of available housing options at all income levels, those who suffer the most are often on the lowest end of the income spectrum often resulting in having no options at all. That’s why we need more options, like Hope Springs, along the housing continuum. 

Washoe County recently reported an 875% increase in homelessness since 2017. Bridge housing programs will be a vital component to reducing this staggering statistic, which is why we are being thoughtful about our intake and eligibility process, refining our programming and addressing challenges as they arise. We have purposefully cascaded qualified residents in one at a time and have achieved 50% capacity. Our deliberate and thorough plan to methodically build a community has been effective and is replicable.

The connection between housing and wellness is clear, and HOPES’ model of wrap-around care has always offered housing support including prevention and placement services. That’s why community partners and generous donors entrusted HOPES to open and operate Hope Springs. As we have worked to refine our program, we have also been able to ramp up intake and expect to be on target for full capacity at the one-year mark–March 2022. 

Now more than ever, our community must come together and support innovative and comprehensive housing solutions like Hope Springs, ensuring unsheltered individuals will have access to the medical, behavioral and support services they need to stabilize their health and have a safe place to call home.

Josh McMullen is the director of housing and Hope Springs at Northern Nevada HOPES.

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