Health Starts at Home

As the Care Coordinator for Housing Prescriptions as Health Care, I see firsthand the resilience of families and the importance of housing stability on a daily basis. A partnership between Children’s HealthWatch, Project Hope, MLPB (formerly Medical-Legal Partnership Boston), the Boston Housing Authority, and Nuestra Comunidad, Housing Prescriptions offers support and resources with housing matters, legal help, and financial literacy to struggling families so that they may become stably housed. Most come in with few expectations. By this point, they have told their stories repeatedly and not gotten any solutions to their housing crisis. They have also completed multiple low-income housing applications only to get placed on a waitlist that may take them up to 10 years to even be screened for a unit. But once they hear that this program will help them secure stable housing, they go above and beyond to complete the necessary steps to get closer to achieving their first goal– getting the keys to a new, safe and affordable home. They may sometimes feel defeated, but they never give up.

The most challenging part of my job is working with families who are ineligible for emergency assistance shelters and also lack family or friends to stay with until they secure somewhere to go. In these situations, families make difficult choices to ensure their children are safe, such as staying in the emergency room of a hospital or in a small room at a church during the cold winter months. I see families stretch themselves beyond what they thought was possible to endure challenges no one should have to face.

For example, I once worked with a dad whose wife had end stage renal disease which resulted in multiple hospitalizations and required ongoing treatment. They had no income and no way of getting a job due to their immigration status, and he and his family were homeless and living apart: he and the children on the floor of a room in a local house of worship; the mother in a small rented room. Due to the mother’s medical condition, they could not live together– the place where the father and children were staying exacerbated her declining health. However, despite the many obstacles, his commitment and determination to get his family to a place where they could all live together amazed me each time we met to go over the family’s stabilization plan.

Within a few months, our team was able to work with the father to complete the application and screening process with the Boston Housing Authority and move into a permanently affordable home with his family. Dad is now working full time in an IT department at a local hospital and has attained his driver’s license, the children are attending school, and mom is home and still receiving treatment. Eventually, she would like to enroll in a pharmacy technician job training program and work part time. The family has expressed so much gratitude and continues to thrive.

Working with families and seeing them transition from living in a church, shelter or a ‘doubled up’ situation to a stable home is great. I can literally see the stress and anxiety melt off of them once they have a permanent home. We need more programs like Housing Prescriptions not only because it will help more families become stably housed, but because having agencies partner together to holistically address housing instability impacts their health in a positive, transformative way.

I talked to one mom last week who stated that she is not only grateful for having a home she can afford to keep, but that her daughters do not utilize the emergency room as much as they used to. They do not get sick as often as they did when they lived in a market rate apartment they could barely afford and that was not safe for children to live in. Although getting all the necessary documents together to complete a public housing application, or not having a childcare voucher to pay for a daycare so that a parent can work, can be very challenging, as a case manager, I am extremely happy that Housing Prescriptions exists. I hope this program will continue because having a safe, affordable home through an efficient and supports-heavy process is not only what every family and every child deserves, but it is the foundation for good health.

Lisdaly Nunez is the Care Coordinator for Housing Prescriptions as Health Care.