Researchers to learn from Homeward Bound’s success with support from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Homeward Bound case manager and volunteer assist a woman experiencing homelessness.

Homeward Bound case manager Asia Heller and volunteer Alan Steinberg assist a woman experiencing homelessness. Credit: Maureen Simon

Every person who lives in a shelter or on the streets in our community needs a combination of affordable housing, appropriate services and adequate income. The longer people are homeless, the more complex their needs become. As a consequence, homelessness ultimately costs taxpayers.

Homeward Bound, a nonprofit based in Asheville, N.C. and serving Buncombe and Henderson Counties, is dedicated to alleviating the effects of homelessness. Over the past 11 years, 89 percent of the more than 1,800 people that Homeward Bound has moved into housing have remained housed.

Now, Homeward Bound’s model of tenancy support services will expand its reach to the rest of the state. It will participate in a research project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program.

The research team is made up of two Duke University faculty members and a community advocate. They are Mina Silberberg, Ph.D., an associate professor in Duke Health’s Department of Community and Family Medicine; Donna Biederman, DrPH, MN, RN, associate professor at the Duke School of Nursing; and Emily Carmody, LCSW, program director with the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness. The Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity (DCORE) is a collaborating partner, providing consulting and staff support services to the research team.

As part of the study, the research team will conduct interviews and focus groups with staff and program participants as well as analyze program data. By closely studying Homeward Bound’s model, the researchers will learn about promising practices for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which is interested in using Medicaid to fund tenancy support services across the state.

Information from the study will help to create a Medicaid funding stream that supports effective services in the field and provides more people with supportive housing.

Tenancy-focused case management services are not the typically considered health services, but these services contribute to better health outcomes and recovery. For those with ongoing disabilities, long-term housing subsidies and services are a lifeline. For communities, the result is reduced costs to jails and hospitals.

“Most people think of the emergency room and/or community mental health providers as those directly addressing the health issues that formerly homeless individuals are experiencing,” says Leslie Stewart, Homeward Bound Program Director. “However, tenancy support through case management is the frontline intervention that works to make that connection and facilitate long-term engagement so that individuals can experience lasting wellness and stability in housing. Housing is health care.”

Besides helping residents to get and keep housing, Homeward Bound also connects residents to community resources, teaching them skills that will help them maintain their home and find employment and volunteer opportunities.

Homeward Bound is one of the two programs in North Carolina chosen for the study because of their success in housing vulnerable populations. Two programs in Louisiana will be studied as well.

Says Stewart, “Housing stability is a crucial piece of the puzzle when considering overall health and wellness and is necessary to fully address these issues.”

For more information about Homeward Bound’s success, go to https://homewardboundwnc.org/stories.