In One City, an Effort to Address the Nexus Between Housing and Health Gains Momentum

The Boston Foundation has six active initiatives right now, and one of them in particular is really heating up. TBF recently announced that four teams of health and housing groups will receive $200,000 each over the next three years as part of its Health Starts at Home initiative. The idea emerged in the winter of 2014 with a planning grant competition, and it’s now transformed into a great collaborative opportunity for local nonprofits.

In addition to this grant money, the foundation will spend an extra $200,000 annually during the grant period to evaluate the partnerships and the work the organizations are doing together. Not only do these grants encourage collaboration, they also originated from a collaborative effort. Funding isn’t just coming from TBF, but also the Kresge Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, and Partners HealthCare.

“From the start, Health Starts at Home has taken a unique approach to compel experts in different fields to pool their knowledge, resources, and energy,” explained Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation.

This is yet another effort to look upstream at the causes of poor health, an approach embraced by multiple funders working in a variety of places, from the big guns like RWJF and Kresge, to a range of more local players, like the Colorado Health Foundation. 

Related: Another Funder Looks Upstream to Change Health Outcomes, This Time in Minnesota

This goal of this particular initiative is to bridge the gaps between health and housing services to address the negative health effects of a lack of stable and affordable housing on children. Research shows that unstable housing and unaffordable rent prices significantly affect children’s mental, behavioral and physical health. Ultimately, this results in higher healthcare costs and burdens on homeless support systems, so clearly the two issues are tragically intertwined.

We’re now in Phase II of the Health Starts at Home initiative, which includes these partner teams:

  • Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, Urban Edge
  • The Neighborhood Developers, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center, Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, Roca
  • Children’s HealthWatch, Project Hope, Boston Housing Authority, Medical-Legal Partnership, Nuestra Comunidad, Boston Medical Center – Problem Solving Education, BMC HealthNet Plan
  • Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Boston Children’s Primary Care at Martha Eliot Health Center and Longwood, Horizons for Homeless Children

Now, we're guessing that for many of the people and institutions involved in this effort, forming these partnerships has been a new kind of experience. Some interesting bridges are definitely being built here. The question is how sturdy they'll be over the long haul, since there's a long history of funder-backed marriages ending once the money dries up (not to mention being rather loveless even when the money is flowing).

We'll be watching, and it's great to see so much evaluation money baked into this thing.