Food Insecurity and Homelessness
Facing food insecurity impacts our mental and physical health. One study shows that mothers of school-aged children facing hunger are 56% more likely to face PTSD and 53% more likely to face severe depression. There is a strong relationship between hunger and chronic diseases. Food insecurity also changes the way we think and plan. It diminishes our cognitive ability, and food insecurity in youth might even have negative long-term cognitive effects into adulthood.
The mental and physical health struggles faced by many homeless are even more insidious and the results even more dramatic. Becoming homeless can lead to a serious loss of self-esteem, fear of or actually becoming institutionalized, increase in substance misuse, loss of ability and will to care for oneself, increased danger of abuse and violence, increased chance of entering the criminal justice system, and development of behavioral problems. Homelessness can also lead to cold injury or heat stroke, cardio-respiratory diseases, tuberculosis, skin diseases, nutritional deficiencies, sleep deprivation, new or exacerbated mental Illness, risk for physical and sexual assault, drug dependency and related illnesses, and death.
The causes of food insecurity and homelessness are complex. Without addressing the emergency need for food, shelter, and care coordination, the problems only spiral and become worse.
So what can we do about this issue?
Providing Emergency Food and Shelter
In the tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph and in alignment with community health principles, St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund (SJCPF) is committed to care for the poor and most vulnerable. Caring for those who are hungry, homeless, and vulnerable is our mission and a reflection of our values. Every year, through the Emergency Food and Shelter Initiative (EFSI) we deploy approximately $1 million to Community Based Organizations (CBOs) in the areas served by the Providence-St. Joseph Health System that provide emergency food, shelter, and care coordination to the most vulnerable in their communities.
In Napa, California, one grantee, The Table, provides a nutritious meal to anyone who is hungry every day, five days a week. This hot meal and the dignity and quality with which it is served provides a much-needed nutritional and personal benefit to those in dire need. Other CBOs have food pantries that provide individuals with weekly food supplies while they are in need.
The Coordinated Housing, Food, and Eviction Prevention program offered by one grantee, Catholic Charities of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, provides a series of wraparound services to those facing emergency food, shelter and care coordination needs. A desperate individual or family in need can receive case management, be connected to a variety of resources to alleviate hunger, maintain shelter, and address any mental or physical health concerns through coordinated referrals.
These are just two examples of CBO direct service programs that have a positive impact on hunger, homelessness, and the needs of the homeless in their communities. In 2020, they are among 46 grantees selected from over 70 applicant organizations.
EFSI is one element of SJCPF’s larger, more comprehensive strategy to address housing and homelessness as a Social Determinant of Health (SDoH).
Impact Today, Impact Tomorrow
Without these CBOs, individuals in our communities would go hungry and live without shelter right now. Their needs are emergent and will not wait for upstream conditions such as housing stock or poverty to change. Individuals from every background, with every story to tell, would be faced with the horrors of hunger and homelessness without the direct services offered by these organizations. Similarly, those in need of mental and physical health services might not receive them. In some cases, one month of food assistance can provide the cushion and support that an individual or family needs to stabilize, to return to work, or to attain other more robust support services they need to do so. Three months of transitional shelter and case management could be the impetus for a woman escaping domestic violence to gain independence, confidence, and stability for her future. These emergency services are crucial to the well-being of our communities.
Nonetheless, we will not resolve hunger and homelessness through these direct services alone. To see lasting impact beyond the short-term emergency support, we are committed to a strategy addresses the upstream factors that create hunger and homelessness.
Several of SJCPF’s initiatives, such as our Intersections and Community Building Initiatives, invest in health equity and wellness by building the capacity and power of community leaders and CBOs thereby facilitating their pursuit of changes to the upstream conditions, policies, and systems that affect their well-being.
A “Yes, And” Strategy…
Over the last decade, we have been committed to the Emergency Food and Shelter Initiative (EFSI), which funds service programs for the most vulnerable residents in the hospital regions. However, because issues around housing and homelessness will not be sustainably resolved by service alone, SJCPF will also invest in collaborative capacity necessary for lasting change. For SJCPF, it is not an either or, but rather a yes and investment strategy. All work will recognize housing and homelessness as a SDoH and will encourage stakeholders to consider upstream conditions in their planning and collective action.
Ultimately, SJCPF’s goal is to improve the well-being of those facing homelessness and hunger sustainably. Implementing investments that both alleviate the emergency needs, but improve the structures, policies, and conditions that lead to these needs in the first place. We believe that through funding direct services, and also collaborative capacity and systems change, we can improve the well-being of the most vulnerable in our communities.