The face of homelessness might not be what you expect, and the stories are, as you can imagine, heartbreaking.
In recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, WellSpan responded by meeting an immediate need of those experiencing homelessness through a system-wide service project.
More than 355 WellSpan team members and volunteers came together to package 8,000 personal care kits for individuals and families facing homelessness across our communities this winter. Kits, which included toiletry items and messages of hope, were packaged at each of our hospitals during 12 hours of volunteer shifts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and later, delivered to local nonprofit partners across our regions.
“This system-wide collaboration was a true example of ‘working as one’ and I am very proud of the volunteers who stepped up. This was a successful project,” said Christi Brown, senior director of volunteer engagement.
Some WellSpan team members who were unable to attend hospital-based events created activity kits for children entering shelters during the winter with their families.
The project was a collaboration between WellSpan’s Community Health and Supply Chain departments, along with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Volunteer Engagement.
Homelessness impacts the health of our neighbors
Homelessness is a more complex problem than the simple lack of a place to live. Our neighbors experiencing homelessness often suffer from poor health and premature death due to limited access to healthcare. They also often are deprived of basic human and social rights.
Kelly Blechertas, program coordinator for the York County Coalition on Homelessness, said homelessness has increased in York County over the past two years due to housing availability and cost challenges. The increase in homelessness includes families with young children who have never experienced homelessness, but are facing new and unexpected hardships.
“As housing and rent prices soar, the face of homelessness in our community has changed and the number of neighbors experiencing unprecedented challenges has grown,” Blechertas said.
She added that recent economic inflation, rising costs of food, gas, and essential items, along with high housing related costs have also impacted the financial position of our neighbors throughout South Central Pennsylvania.
According to Stephanie Voight, WellSpan’s director of community health planning and evaluation, more than 40% of residents across the WellSpan footprint report being cost-burdened by rent and 19% of home owners report being cost-burdened by housing expenses. Median home values continue to rise across the region to levels that make home ownership unattainable for many.
Voight added that more than 137,000 households across the WellSpan footprint are cost-burdened by housing related expenses. The availability of affordable units continues to diminish, and the inadequate supply of small, affordable housing options is forcing more and more seniors to stay in homes that are not conducive to aging in place.
“The financial challenges of our neighbors are likely also influenced by dramatic income inequities, an increase in single female households with children, and the steadily increasing number of older adults,” Voight pointed out.
“This perfect storm is resulting in our communities seeing rising numbers of individuals experiencing homelessness.”
WellSpan provided $250,000 in grant funds to more than 10 community-based organizations serving individuals experiencing homelessness across our region within the last two years. These funds were used to expand capacity during winter operations, provide nutritious meals, shelter women with children, and assist individuals in accessing medical and social services.
WellSpan also continues to support programs like Arches to Wellness and the Omega Bed Lease program, which ensure patients can recuperate in a safe living environment and maintains a commitment to screening for and addressing housing challenges for our patients.
“For WellSpan, it has always been and will always be about partnership. As we continue to partner with organizations serving the growing number of homeless neighbors, we identify opportunities to support their work in ways that are innovative,” Voight said.
“We understand that a washcloth, hygiene kit, or message of hope can meet an immediate need when stressors and despair are high.”