By Dr. Kara Odom Walker and Anas Ben Addi
As members of the governor’s cabinet, we work together with the common goal of providing all Delawareans an equal opportunity to succeed. With 2020 approaching, we have plans in the New Year to continue working together to address our state’s health and housing challenges, because more and more, we recognize the connection between housing and health and how important housing can be, especially in situations where the person is vulnerable and needs support.
As a family doctor and public health leader, I have seen too many children hospitalized for asthma attacks triggered by cockroach dander or rodent droppings. I have seen patients with diabetes struggle to keep their insulin cold because they did not have a refrigerator or a consistent place to sleep at night. And I have seen some of my elderly patients fall ill as extreme temperatures caused by lack of heating or cooling put added stress on their already vulnerable bodies.
As an affordable housing finance practitioner and leader in the field, I know that the solution to our housing challenges will not be found simply by creating housing units but by increasing collaboration between the various organizations working together, including our two agencies – the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) and the Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA).
Too often, we see instances where housing is available for individuals or families, but a lack of supportive services keeps them from being successful. That’s why DHSS and DSHA continue to work together to invest in supportive housing – housing with built-in case management, mental health services, job training, or even day care. Through the Statewide Rental Assistance Program (SRAP), our agencies have been able to help vulnerable populations in our state find affordable housing with supportive services. Over the last five years, more than 1,270 people who need supportive services have received special rental vouchers through the SRAP program to help them live independently and safely.
We’ve addressed some of our state’s housing and health care challenges through the SRAP program, but
we know there is more that can be done.
For better health outcomes, the evidence is clear that safe and affordable housing must be a priority not just for public sector agencies like ours but for nonprofit organizations, health care providers, and private sector employers. We have resources in Delaware to develop more supportive housing, from planning grants for nonprofits, to technical assistance for billing, to construction, rehab, and new construction loans. Health care can even use supportive housing as an offered service.
We also need more communities willing to embrace diverse residents and living arrangements. We all benefit from sharing our gifts and talents with each other – no matter where we live, work, play, and pray. Supportive housing models can reduce loneliness, give a sense of purpose, and promote social cohesion and understanding. As a way to invest in more supportive housing and other social determinants of health, we are working on ways to fund these models through such public-private partnerships as Healthy Communities Delaware.
The evidence shows us that a stable, healthy and affordable home helps families organize themselves to be successful and to effectively confront life’s inevitable challenges, whether educational, health-related or financial. Individuals and families who lack that stable foundation are far more likely to fall between the cracks. We need to work together to ensure all Delawareans have a roof over their heads and are given every opportunity to succeed.
Dr. Kara Odom Walker is the Cabinet Secretary for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. Anas Ben Addi is the Director of the Delaware State Housing Authority.