Health care companies donate $15 million to fight chronic homelessness | KNKX

Health care companies donate $15 million to fight chronic homelessness

May 16, 2019

Three of the Seattle region's largest health care organizations have announced a $15 million effort to fight chronic homelessness, framing the region's housing woes as a health care crisis that strains providers and raises costs throughout the medical system. 

The donation is the largest-ever gift to the Seattle nonprofit Plymouth Housing, whose 14 buildings are home to about 1,000 formerly homeless people.

Leaders of the health care providers Swedish and Providence St. Joseph Health and the insurance company Premera Blue Cross announced the donation at a news conference Wednesday.

"At its core, homelessness is a crisis of our community's health," Swedish chief executive Guy Hudson said. "Issues like opioid addiction, mental health concerns that require treatment, and chronic disease are woven into this." 

They said moving people off the streets and into homes improves their health, makes them easier for doctors to treat, and reduces costly trips to the emergency room. 

"Homelessness is a matter of quality of life," said Jeffrey Roe, chief executive of Premera Blue Cross. "It has a serious impact on life expectancy and, of course, it has an impact on cost, too." 

Mike Butler, a senior executive of Providence St. Joseph Health, said patients' health care costs shrink by more than 20 percent when they move from homelessness into one of Plymouth Housing's buildings. 

The executives challenged other business leaders to play a more active role in the fight against homelessness.

"We cannot expect our political and civic leaders to address the issue on their own," Hudson said. "It takes everyone." 

Plymouth Housing said the companies' donations will be combined with other donations and government funds to build more housing in Seattle.

The nonprofit has three projects in the works. One building under construction at the edge of the Chinatown-International District will have more than 100 units and "will have particular emphasis on people with behavioral health issues," Plymouth Housing chief executive Paul Lambros said.

Other projects include a 91-unit building planned in Lower Queen Anne and a high-rise with more than 300 units just outside Swedish's First Hill campus. Lambros said that project, built in partnership with nonprofit Bellwether Housing, will be "Seattle's first affordable high-rise in over 50 years" and include more than 200 affordable units and more than 100 units for chronically homeless seniors.