Rendering by Bergsund DeLaney Architecture and Planning

Health Care Organizations to Help the Homeless

Local hospitals fund Housing First development

Housing First is seen by many advocates for the unhoused as a big step in getting the chronically homeless into long-term housing rather than emergency shelter. Four local health care organizations are donating almost $2.7 million to help fund a 51-unit Housing First development for individuals struggling with homelessness in Eugene. 

The development, called The Commons on MLK, is a Housing First development –– a model designed to provide 24/7 care and resources to those who experience chronic homelessness. 

In funding the project, Kaiser Permanente Northwest and PeachHealth are contributing $750,000 each. Pacific Health Associates working with PacificSource will provide $500,000 and Trillium Community Health Plan will donate $500,000 for the development. The PacificSource Foundation for Health Improvement will be giving a $180,000 program grant, according to a press release.

Jacob Fox, executive director of Homes For Good and the developer of the project, says the donations from the local health care organizations makes this one of the biggest community investments in affordable housing that he has seen since moving to Lane County in 2013.

“It’s the first time health care has invested in that scale of permanent supportive housing community,” he says. Fox adds that the healthcare system is wanting to reduce the number of emergency room visits. 

The 51-unit building will be located on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd on land donated by Lane County.  The complex is next to the Lane County Behavioral health building, giving residents easy access to the county health services.

Each unit is its own apartment studio, complete with a kitchen living area and bathroom. The first floor will house an array of social services available to people living in the building, Fox says. Part of the housing First model is that once the individuals are housed, caseworkers can address other needs such as finding a job, getting help with mental illness and other medical care.

“People come in who are really sick,” he says. “We get them supportive health care. Once folks get stabilized they can secure social security. Some of them will get a job.”

The project was created in 2016, when the city developed a poverty and homeless board strategic plan. One of the components of the plan, Fox says, was to create a Housing First development and to get the health community to support it.

“Because I’ve worked in other communities, I just know its a best practice that has happened across the nation,” he says.

The city of Eugene has struggled to find sustainable solutions to help individuals who struggle with homelessness in the past. The 2019 Point-In-Time Count for Lane County was 2,165 and 841 of those people are considered chronically homeless.

In determining which individuals get to live in MLK Commons, the county has created a “coordinated entry waiting list.” The list is which is composed of people they have identified as chronically homeless –– those who frequent the jail or the hospital for chronic health issues.

“People can stay as long as they need there,” Fox says.

In total, MLK Commons will cost about $13 million, Fox says. The development has received $3 million from the State and smaller donations from Oregon Health Authority, the low income housing tax credit and Federal Loan Bank.

Construction for MLK Commons is set to begin in November with a target completion in December 2020.