Link Between Health and Homelessness Has Been Magnified by Covid-19 Pandemic

SAN DIEGO, CA., February 25, 2021 – Experts have long understood that a person’s health often impacts their ability to be housed, and vice versa. The significance of this link has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic and has led the Regional Task Force on Homelessness to create an ad hoc committee to explore the connection.

The new Health and Homeless Systems ad hoc committee will dive into best practices within each of the health and homelessness systems, as well as identify potential future funding strategies for capacity development in the areas of recuperative care and shelter for people who are discharged from hospitals.

“Homelessness is not a system of failures, it is a failure of systems,” said RTFH CEO Tamera Kohler. “Often times some part of the system has failed a person, leading them to dire situations. Maybe they can’t afford their required health care. Or they don’t have a stable place to go after hospital discharge. Financial challenges or housing challenges on top of an already fragile health situation can be disastrous for someone. We want to look deeply at this, with all the right people in the room, to find the gaps in the systems that may help prevent these tragedies in the future.”

Part of the committee’s charge will be to develop a strategy to educate hospital discharge social workers and case managers on interventions and strategies to assist people who are unsheltered at the point of discharge. The committee will also look to identify funding strategies for the expansion of recuperative care and potential opportunities available through California’s Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal initiative (CalAIM) into the health and homeless provider community.

“The purpose of this Ad Hoc Committee is to bring together health and housing leaders to explore and adopt strategies to enhance our cross-sector communication and referral pathways,” said Karen McCabe, Director of Community Programs Development at Scripps Mercy Hospital and chair of the ad hoc committee. “It will also provide an opportunity to align best practices among health, social service and housing providers that benefit the unsheltered population that we mutually serve.” 

COVID has further magnified the link between health and homeless systems, due to the impact of COVID on people who are homeless and the necessity to adjust how services are delivered.   Healthcare systems and payors have become increasingly involved in the delivery of services to people who are homeless.  In addition, partnerships between homeless service providers and healthcare entities and payors have strengthened substantially over the past several years, particularly through Whole Person Wellness and Health Homes.

In addition to the new ad hoc committee, the RTFH, in partnership with Father Joe’s Villages, was recently one of only two Continuum of Care entities across California to be selected for inclusion in a statewide learning collaborative on best practices of integrating health and homeless service systems, and the only one that partnered with a provider of health and homeless services.

Improving connections between homeless providers and healthcare entities will result in a more streamlined system for people who are homeless and have ongoing physical and behavioral health conditions that may create barriers to their becoming housed and staying housed.

Initial members of the ad hoc committee will include RTFH board members. The committee will develop a work plan and identify other key stakeholders who should participate. Ad hoc committee members include:


  • Deacon Jim Vargas, Father Joe’s Villages
  • Jonathan Castillo, PATH
  • Jeff Gering, Family Health Centers of San Diego
  • Camey Christenson, 211
  • Greg Anglea – Interfaith Community Services
  • Ben Moraga, Sharp Healthcare Foundation
  • Dimitrios Alexiou, Hospital Association of San Diego & Imperial Counties
  • Susan Bower, Regional Task Force on Homelessness
  • Karen McCabe Scripps Mercy Hospital (Chair)

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