The Housing for Health team: Marisol Jacobo, Laura Hagen, Tristan Mayo, and Casey Swank

Housing for Health: Whole-person care that puts housing first

By Molly Lautamo, Contributor

Housing for Health’s (H4H) program manager, Casey Swank, lights up when she talks about her clients. As she recalls numerous success stories in her small upstairs office on Ocean Street, Swank smiles widely and the tone quickly shifts from restrained professionalism to heartfelt admiration.

“I’m just so inspired by our clients’ humility and resiliency and their willingness to share their lives with us,” said Swank.

“One of our clients has been in and out of the criminal justice system his entire life but now he’s been sober for a year, is in transitional housing, and is enrolled in classes at Cabrillo. At age 67, he’s back in school! He’s just really flourishing.”

H4H, a program of Encompass Community Services, provides wraparound support to individuals who are both chronically homeless and managing co-occurring disorders. These men and women struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse, in addition to complex medical conditions, making it incredibly challenging to receive treatment and find housing.

A reverse approach

Following the Housing First model, H4H helps people get housing without the normal prerequisites of employment, sobriety, and stable mental health. This reverse approach is based on research that shows an individual’s physical and mental health improves once they have housing, making it easier for them to manage their substance abuse and find and hold a job. In order to help people improve their lives, H4H advocates for treating the whole person, rather than fragmenting crucial services such as mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and housing.

“Research has shown that the best way to treat chronic homelessness is to focus on the whole person,” said Swank. “That’s why we have a multi-disciplinary team that can provide medical services and treatment for co-occurring disorders, in addition to housing services. We have to address all these components simultaneously to create stability in a person’s life.”

Housing is just the beginning

Getting people housed is a huge step towards recovery, but it’s far from the final step. This is why H4H stays with its clients for the full 3-year duration of the program, whether a client is housed in the first month or the last year. “A lot of programs deal with the housing and then the program is over,” said Laura Hagen, H4H case manager and counselor. “We stay with our clients through this transition because that’s when a lot of issues come up around social boundaries, substance abuse, and building relationships. There’s also just a lot of fear around being housed because it’s not what they’re accustomed to.”

H4H is currently able to provide support for up to 70 individuals and so far the majority of those served are either permanently housed or in transitional housing. This program has the potential to save lives and save thousands of dollars in community resources such as emergency response services. If Swank’s success stories are any indication, the program will hopefully expand and be replicated in the future.

“We’re trying to do everything that we can to support persons who are traditionally oppressed and marginalized in our society,” said Swank. “We’re trying to level the playing field. We’re all human and we all share the same struggles. It’s just a matter of who has the support and who doesn’t.”

To learn more about H4H contact Casey Swank at (831) 459–0444 ext. 3518.