LifeLong Leading the Way in Supporting Housing

By Elaine Herscher, Senior Editor

Nearly three decades ago, LifeLong became one of the first federally qualified health centers to help launch supportive housing and would later become known as a national leader in the field.

LifeLong started providing supportive housing services in six adult residential hotels in 1997. This was at the very beginning of the national movement known as Housing First — a revolutionary change that recognized that the solution to homelessness is first and foremost moving people into safe housing and then providing supports for their behavioral and physical health needs. Today we serve 795 clients at numerous sites, mostly in Oakland and Berkeley with a few in Contra Costa County.

Although LifeLong doesn’t provide or managing the housing itself, LifeLong staff provide case management, behavioral health, medical care (at some sites), referrals to primary care, and services on site. They focus on helping residents to stay housed, to achieve wellness and personal goals, and to create a safe, supportive community by assisting with applications for government benefits and connecting them to community resources.

The idea for LifeLong’ Supportive Housing Program (SHP) came from former Executive Director and CEO Marty Lynch. Brenda Goldstein, MPH, Chief of Integrative Services, was hired 18 years ago as the Supportive Housing Director.

Ask Brenda about the rationale for adding supportive housing to medical care and she holds up a bumper sticker she keeps in her office: Housing Is Healthcare and Healthcare Is a Human Right.”

“We understood that when people move from homelessness into permanent housing, to really achieve good quality of life, to not return to homelessness, to be able to pay rent, to get healthcare and to address the impact of the trauma experienced while out on the streets, there need to be services together with the housing,” Brenda says. “And that concept is now the standard of care for chronically homeless people who have years of exposure to trauma on the streets.”

SHP has about 30 dedicated staff at present, although 40 would be a full complement. One of the most widely known facilities is the California Hotel in Oakland, which in the 1920s hosted music legends such as Billie Holiday, Big Mama Thornton, and James Brown. Today the former hotel houses approximately 140 residents.

Residents can get help from Case Managers Asha Enam and Jade Byers and Manager Dannette McCain for everything from child support and Social Security benefits paperwork, scheduling behavioral health and medical appointments, transportation to those appointments, and medical care provided at an onsite clinic staffed by LifeLong PA, Britta Nelson. If you live there and are about to miss an appointment, you’re likely to have a case manager knocking on your door to remind you.

“It’s really nice that people can just walk out their door and get these essential services because we do know that people are dealing with drug and alcohol use, and have dual diagnoses as well as chronic medical conditions,” Danette says. “And so to have someone right in the building who understands, that you can talk to and will hold your hand every step of the way, that is just phenomenal.”

Resident Alexis Miller has been living at the California Hotel since January. He came from a board and care facility, but before that he had been homeless in Fremont for more than six months. Alexis says he suffers from mental health issues.

On the street, he says, “I couldn’t take care of myself. I was able to eat, but at night I was very unprotected. It was cold. I was always afraid of someone harming me.”

Alexis says he’s receiving primary care from LifeLong. At his current home, he says, “I’ve got a beautiful studio, a refrigerator, a closet, my own bathroom. Everyone’s been really super nice to me, and kind and really helpful. I haven’t had a bad experience.”

He’s also about to start a new job as a snack bar attendant at sports events. “Life,” he says, “is pretty good.”

Note: The SHP Program is not able to fast track LifeLong patients to get housing. If your patient is experiencing or at risk for homelessness have them call 211 to be directed to the appropriate resources.