A Vital Collaboration to End Homelessness

by Jennifer Zammuto, Heart of Illinois United Way

Home is where the heart is… and it is the first step in meeting vital needs related to a person’s education, financial stability, and most importantly, health.

Day in and day out, there are dedicated individuals in central Illinois working to end homelessness in our community. For more than 25 years, the Heart of Illinois Homeless Continuum of Care has brought together nonprofit providers, state and local governments, and community stakeholders to help families and individuals access quality, affordable housing. Since 2016, the Heart of Illinois United Way has led the Continuum of Care and advanced the program through increased services, resources and awareness to create a more sustainable system.

The financial burden of homelessness on community resources primarily consists of expenses connected with hospitalization, medical treatment, incarceration, police intervention and emergency shelter services. In central Illinois, more than one third of the homeless population uses emergency rooms or does not seek medical attention. Permanent housing is an integral part of a person’s healthcare because it promotes and provides access to preventative and routine healthcare. When families and individuals have safe and stable housing, they spend less time surviving their situations and are able to improve their life skills and health. 

While there is not a single solution to address homelessness, an interim shelter model that utilizes HUD’s “Housing First” approach prioritizes the basic need of shelter before other needs. Providing stable housing must come first, as it is the foundation upon which all other support—including healthcare—is built. 

Since late 2017, OSF HealthCare has collaborated with the Heart of Illinois United Way and the Continuum of Care to support an interim shelter model that integrates case management provided by the South Side Office of Concern with homeless shelter services at The Salvation Army. 

With OSF HealthCare’s support, the percentage of individuals in central Illinois leaving interim shelter services and moving into permanent housing has doubled. United Way board member Robert Brandfass, who is senior vice president and chief legal officer for OSF HealthCare, chairs the Heart of Illinois Homeless Continuum of Care and is instrumental in OSF HealthCare’s support of ending homelessness. 

“The interim shelter model is a great example of two long-term United Way agencies, The Salvation Army and the South Side Office of Concern, working together to improve the lives of those in our community,” Brandfass says. “OSF HealthCare is grateful to be able to have a role in this excellent collaborative effort.”

Over the last year, lives have been transformed with this model—including the life of Thomas, who had spent eight years utilizing The Salvation Army’s shelter. Once he began receiving case management services from the South Side Office of Concern in 2018, he moved into his own apartment before Thanksgiving. The support Thomas received not only improved his overall physical and mental health; it also helped him connect to occupational training.  

The overall health of our community and economy is paramount to the Heart of Illinois United Way. By leading the Continuum of Care, the United Way can focus on educating the public and private sectors while encouraging partnerships that collectively address the causes and costs of homelessness. Collaborations, such as OSF HealthCare’s support of the interim shelter model, are vital since one agency alone cannot end homelessness. iBi

Jennifer Zammuto is president of the Heart of Illinois United Way.

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