Addressing ‘unique challenges’: How Community Health Services is helping prevent homelessness and hunger

November 17, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees, ,

Approximately a 4-minute read

Key takeaways:

  • It’s National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
  • The Housing Bureau for Seniors, Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels and Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools are all part of Community Health Services at Michigan Medicine — and they all support those managing homelessness and hunger.
  • The programs help Michigan Medicine provide health care outside hospitals and health centers, “in the places where people live, work, play and pray.”

This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a chance to educate the public and draw attention to the causes of and challenges for those experiencing hunger and homelessness. 

At Michigan Medicine, the Housing Bureau for Seniors and several other programs offer services that prevent homelessness and address hunger. These programs are part of Community Health Services, whose key initiatives are designed with the goal of improving the health of our communities, including caring for and promoting the health of children and families and protecting the health and quality of life for older adults.

Three CHS programs directly address homelessness and hunger: the aforementioned Housing Bureau for Seniors, Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels and the Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools.

Here’s what you may not know about these important agencies:

Housing Bureau for Seniors

The Housing Bureau for Seniors (HBS) social work team assists renters and homeowners in securing sustainable housing through the provision of free housing counseling and case management services.

By assisting older adults (55+) in obtaining or maintaining sustainable housing, HBS also supports their ability to secure healthy nutritious food, afford necessary medications and maintain independence. 

“Sustainable housing for older adults ultimately results in improved mental health, fewer hospital visits and peace of mind,” said Janet Hunko, director of the Housing Bureau for Seniors. “Older adults face many unique challenges as they age; housing should never be one of them.”

Of Washtenaw County’s 30,000 senior adult households, nearly 10,000 are “housing-cost burdened” meaning they spend more than one-third of their income on housing-related expenses, making it difficult for them to afford medication and food.

“It is critical that older adults maintain their housing in Washtenaw County as there is a severe shortage of affordable housing available,” said Hunko. “We only have about 1.6 units of affordable housing for every 10 housing-cost-burdened households. And that problem is exacerbated by the fact that nearly 20 percent of homeless adults in Washtenaw County are 55 and older and need that same affordable housing.”

Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels

Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels (AAMOW) seeks to reduce hunger and food insecurity in a culturally responsive manner for the homebound in the Ann Arbor area who are unable to shop and prepare complete, nutritious meals for themselves.

In FY22, AAMOW provided 128,835 Western, Asian, vegetarian, gluten free and liquid meals to 418 clients, including 154 new clients, with the faithful support of 250 volunteers who donated 6,860 hours of their time.

When AAMOW clients were asked about the impact that AAMOW had on their lives, 86% agreed that home delivered meals were their most important source of nutrition. Meanwhile, 98% of clients agreed that Meals on Wheels helps them stay in their home and live independently, 95% said that they eat healthier because of AAMOW, and 95% indicated that AAMOW helps them maintain or achieve a healthy weight.

Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools

The Regional Alliance of Healthy Schools (RAHS) operates several school-based health centers, which offer a unique setting for registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) to provide preventative nutrition services to adolescents who most likely would not have access due transportation, financial barriers and other factors. 

This access enables RDNs to conduct food insecurity screening and consistently follow-up with patients. Individual nutrition counseling is also provided and can be expanded to a group setting with physical activity and use of evidenced based curricula.

“Monitoring progress, connecting with families, and building relationships with community partners for resources is imperative to community success,” said Allison Shannon, M.P.H., R.D.N. lead clinical dietitian for RAHS.

RAHS partners with Food Gatherers for food distribution and the Washtenaw County Health Department’s Prescription for Health program to provide families with a script for procuring fresh fruits and vegetables from regional farmers markets and school wellness teams to consult on an ongoing basis to address concerns identified by school districts.

A robust network of support

In total, CHS is comprised of nine different departments that have a strong foundation of community support, all of which positively impact the community’s health and well-being.

“These programs represent Michigan Medicine’s commitment to the community — health care does not only occur inside the four walls of the hospital, but in the places where people live, work, play and pray,” said Alfreda Rooks, director of CHS. “We’re proud of the work we do to build bridges and connect communities to programs and services that support improved health and quality of life.”

Check out the video at the top of the page for perspectives from those who have lived with housing instability in Washtenaw County.