Ending homelessness requires bold action

August 12, 2019 Mike Butler

Having a safe place to live is something many of us take for granted. We go home with our minds on the commute, what we’ll have for dinner, and maybe our weekend to-do lists. But for more than half a million Americans, a home is everything they don’t have. Millions more people are in unstable housing situations. One in 10 U.S. households spend more than half their income on housing.

I live in Seattle, which has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, along with a very expensive housing market. I’ve been out on a Point in Time count and I found it to be both a learning experience and an eye opener. When I took a look at the best estimates we have for homelessness in the U.S., I realized that the seven western states served by Providence St. Joseph Health represent 36 percent, or 198,000 of the total 552,800 Americans who were homeless for at least a portion of 2018. The national estimated rate of homelessness is 17 per 10,000 people in any one state. We serve four states that far exceed this benchmark.

The call to action

It’s been a startling call to action. I am committed to doing more, personally and professionally, to reduce homelessness not only in Seattle but in all the communities served by our health system. Call it bold, but my aspiration is that the public and private sectors can actually end this national public health crisis if we join together with a common vision and pool our resources and talent. And why not invite our compassionate workforces to join us?

Our Housing is Health website is meant to be a starting place. We are asking major employers, businesses and policymakers in the western U.S. to take a close look at this vexing issue by using the site as a resource. At Providence St. Joseph Health, our community assessments keep telling us that homelessness and inadequate housing are key needs in every community we serve. We are doing something about that, by investing in the best practices of our community partners working on temporary and permanent housing. We also provide safe, secure and permanent housing for more than 2,000 older adults or those with disabilities.

A partnership built on success

A great example of a partnership making a real difference is the Healthy Housing Initiative from Catholic Charities. Its goal is to reduce chronic homelessness by 20 percent over five years in five cities. Our organization is honored to be a partner for the initiative in Portland, Oregon and Spokane, Washington. I’m proud that our existing successful partnership with Catholic Charities in Spokane helped shape the vision for Healthy Housing. As I said in a recent article, we can’t do this alone and there is no better partner than Catholic Charities.

No organization can solve this alone

We believe that finding solutions for safe, affordable housing is the right thing to do. For our mission-driven family of organizations, and for future generations, it’s a moral imperative. There are multiple models that work, but what we’ve learned is that no organization can solve this problem alone. We must forge partnerships, alliances and networks to make a lasting difference. I hope you will join in by finding like-minded organizations in your city or state, by starting a network dedicated to ending homelessness, or by promoting policies that enable solutions. In the end, we are one human family and everyone deserves a place to call home.


About the Author

Mike Butler

Mike Butler is the president of strategy and operations for Providence St. Joseph Health, and has served in executive roles at the health system since 1998. Prior to Providence, Mike was the chief operating and financial officer for the Franciscan Health System in Tacoma, Wash., and Catholic Health Initiatives in Englewood, Colo. He currently serves on the boards of Vizient, MultiScale Health Networks and Medical Teams International.

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