Healthy Blue Knows Home is Where Your Health Is
“It’s hard to get back on your feet once you’ve hit bottom, once you’ve lost everything. It’s hard to find a job when you can’t take a shower or you’re living on the street. You’re irritable, you’re grumpy, you’re tired, the heat has gotten to you.” Hollianne Harris knows from personal experience how safe and stable housing can assist with securing employment and taking care of one’s health. She’s experienced it from both perspectives—she received assistance getting back into housing and is now helping others get into a home of their own.
Hurricane Florence hits NC
Before Hurricane Florence hit Wilmington, NC in September 2018, Hollianne was living in a rental unit with her husband and child. During the storm, floodwaters in Hollianne’s home rose to her knees. The storm destroyed their home and belongings and left both Hollianne and her husband unemployed. The Tillmans sought refuge in a disaster shelter, along with 22,000 other North Carolinians. Though most of the people who stayed in the shelter were able to return home or access federal resources like FEMA to find new housing, hundreds were unable to qualify for assistance and were left with few options.
Seeing this gap, Governor Roy Cooper established funding for Back@Home North Carolina, a new disaster rehousing program that assists individuals and families with housing navigation, short-term financial assistance, and housing stabilization services.
After being housed through Back@Home North Carolina, Hollianne now works at a property management company and helps others affected by Hurricane Florence get safe, stable housing. Hollianne feels fortunate that her family connected to Back@Home while in a disaster shelter and thankful the resource exists.
The Impact of Healthy Blue
Healthy Blue, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s Medicaid offering, recognizes how crucial housing is to overall health. That’s why they pledged $1.6M over three years to the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness to assist Back@Home households in overcoming barriers to housing. The flexible funding can be used as a bonus at lease-signing to negotiate reduced rents, to waive criminal and credit background checks, and as an incentive for landlords to work with the program. Funds can also be used to make repairs to properties so they can meet housing quality standards, making the housing healthier. The funds were essential to get a landlord to take a chance on the Tillmans.
Hollianne says having a home makes managing her child’s diabetes easier, and it makes financial sense to spend $650-$1000 in rent instead of $1500-$2000 in hotel costs. Once they moved-in, both Hollianne and her husband quickly found employment. Now working as a property manager, Hollianne assists other individuals and families experiencing homelessness return to housing. She enjoys being able to help others experiencing homelessness, feeling proud to “get to give back what [others] were able to give to me.”
In 2 months’ time, Hollianne has housed ten households using the Healthy Blue funding.
Her management company now considers housing people with criminal backgrounds, no credit, bad credit, or no employment. Hollianne says, “that initial bonus lets us go to the landlord and say, ‘here’s what they are offering us, let’s give people a second chance’.” Holianne comments that everyone she has housed through the program has been wonderful. “They are just so happy they are in a home.
It’s a great program and I stand behind it 150%. I count my blessings every day.”
Back@Home North Carolina, a disaster rehousing program, is administered by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness and the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency. Four Rehousing Agencies provide direct assistance to individuals and families experiencing homelessness because of Hurricanes Florence and Dorian. Back@Home uses a cost-effective rapid-rehousing model.
During the program’s first month of operation, Back@Home rehoused 100 people from disaster shelters. After one year, the program has rehoused 1000 people. Back@Home is continuing to house individuals and families affected by Hurricanes Florence and Dorian and are currently experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. Four rehousing agencies, First Fruit Ministries, Southeast Family Violence Center, Trillium Heath Resources, and Volunteers of America, provide the disaster rehousing services in their communities, including housing navigation, short-term financial assistance, and housing stabilization services. Referrals are accepted through 2-1-1.
Denise Neunaber is the Executive Director at the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness. Denise is recognized nationally as a strategic thinker and often serves on state and federal partnerships exploring effective and creative solutions to homelessness. She worked on the federal legislation that became the Homeless Emergency Assistance for Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act. Passed in 2009, the Act provides the blueprint for homeless activities across the nation. In 2018, immediately following Hurricane Florence, Denise led the creation of Back@Home North Carolina, the first state disaster rehousing program. Jenn Von Egidy is a Project Specialist at the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness. Jenn organizes stakeholders to end homelessness across a seventy-nine county region. Jenn chronicled stories of individuals and families served by Back@Home, sharing stories of perseverance, hope, and the impact safe, stable housing can have on people’s lives and health.