Community Collaboration Key to Ending Homelessness 

Maya Angelou wrote, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Here in the Triangle, The Raleigh Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness relies on strong connections with the community to end homelessness. The Partnership follows a Housing First policy that goes hand-in-hand with our mission to keep homelessness brief and prevent it from recurring. Housing First prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness. The stability of a permanent address serves as a platform where individuals and families can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life.

The Partnership continuously seeks community partners to team up with us to tackle homelessness’s varied and complicated problems. One such valuable partner is Dr Brian Klausner, Medical Director for WakeMed Community Care. In his role, Dr. Klausner treats the homeless experiencing a range of chronic physical and mental illnesses. The practice he directs is also a collaboration between WakeMed Health & Hospitals and Key Physicians to ensure patients, especially the chronically ill, receive timely and accurate care without unnecessary duplication of services. Dr. Klausner has been a powerful and public ally in outlining concrete reasons why Housing First works and how this policy, with the Partnership making housing a priority, along with extensive community collaboration, produces real change in homelessness.

Housing Is Healthcare

Putting the priority on placing folks in a home is essential to building their success, especially when participating in related programs in the homeless system for issues such as mental illness, trauma, or drug abuse. For Dr. Klausner, one certain answer to homelessness is an address. “It’s really hard, or just impossible, to truly treat the underlying mental illness or medical illness in the chaos of homelessness,” said Dr. Klausner.

With the recently developed Access Hub and Housing Navigation Unit, the Partnership continues to streamline bottlenecks people run into when searching for help. Dr. Klausner touted the significant changes the Partnership made in one short year to address the increasing needs. “The growth of the Partnership has been tremendous. I think it’s evolving with the local community as we evolve around better partnering, collaboration, and better methods in working with our most vulnerable residents—and the homeless certainly meet that definition.”

Brian Klausner, MD
Medical Director,
WakeMed Community Care

The Data Connection 

Dr. Klausner pointedly shared the struggle folks encounter navigating a fragmented and disjointed system that is supposed to function as a safety net. He remarked how those trying to navigate several systems when already suffering are often unaware of the types of help available. “When you are dealing with a lot of our community-based partners, hospitals, and health clinics, you have incredible people doing incredible things, but sometimes that work is siloed.”  

The need for high-quality data encompasses the desire to be a humane but efficient society. To Dr. Klausner, showing the numbers is crucial while explaining why helping our homeless residents is a humane necessity. It is also a cost-efficient method to manage a suffering population through a sustainable, bipartisan collaborative approach. “The more we can look at analytics and costs, by showing the price of our historic inefficiency, for example, then we can examine the costs of not implementing Housing First Models in terms of what patients cost society through healthcare, jail, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and homeless shelters.”  

Building the needed data means forging more IT relationships in the community, hospitals, service providers and government. As a community within the Research Triangle, Dr. Klausner noted how our area is poised to be a gold-standard to develop quality data. “We could do it better than anybody, and I think we almost have an obligation.” 

An Ounce of Prevention

For those already facing vulnerable situations, the Pandemic compounded economic and health issues. Unfortunately, due to the economic fallout from COVID-19, more people will become homeless who never imagined they would be in that situation. Dr. Klausner hopes more prevention within the homeless system can limit that progression. If service providers and medical caregivers can demonstrate cost-savings in treating the most vulnerable, perhaps some of the savings can be re-invested into a preventative model.

Despite the strides in creating a more efficient system, Dr. Klausner brought up the challenges to better coordinate the safety nets. “I think we’ve made some real progress in the last couple of years. And how we continue to build on that progress is key.” The need to build on the evolving collaboration and leverage that teamwork into more housing opportunities for long-term success is a goal that Dr. Klausner and the Partnership continue to push. ”Across the nation from a housing perspective, how can we do things better, and how can we innovate better? The easiest case of homelessness to treat will be the one that never occurs in the first place.”

Vaccinating the Homeless

There’s an urgency to vaccinate those experiencing homelessness. With that, Dr. Klausner teamed up with the Partnership and Urban Ministries to utilize the White Flag Emergency Shelter. Taking advantage of location proximity to reach the homeless in shelters and street outreach missions will be ongoing. “The goal is to vaccinate a large percentage—hopefully, the majority of the homeless population by early April,” said Dr. Klausner, with the ongoing goal to continue vaccinating this population as supplies allow. 

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