Funding Health through Housing: The RWJF Approach

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a health-focused funder that we’ve covered extensively as it crusades for a healthier America. However, this coverage is almost always centered on its funding around issues like childhood obesity, insurance coverage, healthcare jobs, good nutrition, and exercise.

Related: The Mothership of Health Philanthropy Has Big Ambitions. How's It Going So Far?

So what’s a RWJF story doing in our housing section?

Well, the foundation just awarded a $100,000 grant to Coming Home of Middlesex County Inc. in New Jersey to support a housing program called Housing First. On the surface, this might seem a bit out of character for RWJF, but it’s really not at all.

Housing First is a program that provides stable housing and support services to people who are homelesspeople who often end up in shelters, jails, psychiatric wards and emergency rooms. Oftentimes, these people don’t need immediate medical care, just a place to sleep, and they don't know how to find one. That’s the program’s first order of business.

The second phase is to connect these newly housed individuals with individualized, community-based health treatment and social services to make them self-sufficient. With tailored medical treatment in place, the hope is that these individuals can sustain their new housing accommodations. And in this way, RWJF takes a roundabout approach to health funding by way of a housing grant.

Coming Home will use the $100,000 grant to connect with social service providers throughout Middlesex County to prioritize the needs of homeless people based on severity and vulnerability. Undoubtedly, determining who needs assistance the most will be a bit tricky, but the group seems confident that it can minimize the time that individuals experience housing crises.

“This collaborative effort will break down silos between the healthcare sector and efforts to combat homelessness and brings us closer to our goal of eliminating homelessness in Middlesex County,” said Eileen O’Donnell, executive director of Coming Home.

This is a pilot program, something that RWJF doesn’t shy away from when a promising new health idea is presented. It's also a one-time grant for a one-year period, but if successful, the nonprofit will kick off fundraising efforts to keep it going. Although RWJF is a national funder, New Jersey is its home state, so it makes sense to pilot a project like this close to home. The funder has invested over $1.5 billion in New Jersey since 1972. Successful pilot projects have a way of getting expanded and replicated when Robert Wood Johnson is behind them. 

Check out the current funding opportunities on the RWJF website, because there are a few coming up through the start of the new year. Housing is part of the foundation’s “Child and Family Well-Being” and “Healthy Communities” strategies, so there are definitely some opportunities here for housing nonprofits that can spin a health angle into their service offerings.