Donna Hufnagle, a social worker with Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH), is on a mission to provide a safety net for a dozen people whose lives, through some combination of housing instability, behavioral health problems, and physical illness, are in freefall. It’s a full-time job that takes Hufnagle all over the Hampton Roads region of southeastern Virginia, where the program is based, and often finds her on the phone with local landlords trying to secure shelter for her clients. Putting a roof over their heads is her first order of business.

In the meantime, she provides “wraparound” services to her clients. One is a woman who is surviving on the streets in Newport News; another is a man who currently bunks at a shelter in downtown Norfolk. One of her clients is couch surfing, another living in her car. Hufnagle meets them wherever they are. People who have no place to land, she knows from experience, “need boots-on-the-ground people—not someone who just calls them up and says, ‘Hey by the way, these services are available.’”

Since tackling homelessness is at the center of this intensive effort, some might be surprised to learn that a health care organization plays a key role. The initiative is supported by a joint effort to improve social determinants of health in underserved communities of Virginia by Sentara Healthcare, an integrated hospital system headquartered in Norfolk; its managed-care subsidiary, Optima Health; and LISC.

Collaborations with medical providers and insurers are hardly unusual for LISC. In 2017, LISC made it a priority to bridge the disparate worlds of health care and community development in order to more effectively address the root causes of poor (and often grossly inequitable) community health outcomes. LISC initiatives with health care partners have flourished in places from Phoenix, AZ, to Cincinnati and Toledo, OH, to New York City.

Sentara’s commitment was in fact instrumental in bringing LISC to Hampton Roads. LISC opened a new office in this seven-city region in 2020, in part to drive the partnership’s programs and investments. Deploying resources from a variety of sources, LISC Hampton Roads has since supported a host of activities that ultimately promote health and wellness for local people, including financial and employment coaching, small BIPOC-owned businesses, and what VSH refers to as its “familiar faces” program.

It’s called that because of its focus on a distinct group of people who tend to make heavy use of inpatient and emergency departments, but without healthy outcomes to show for it—single adults experiencing severe housing instability or homelessness along with behavioral health issues.

Read the full article about housing and health care at LISC.