SoCal program looks to improve health by providing homes

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A Los Angeles program is proving that better housing can lead to better health. (KABC)

There's a strong connection between homelessness and health.

Poor health is a leading cause of homelessness as experts note an illness can lead to job loss, which can spiral into losing one's home.

And living on the street can create new and often fatal health conditions.

But the people behind L.A. Care are trying to stop that cycle, and bring new hope to those caught up in the cycle of homelessness and despair.

Ma'Lissa Simon knows all about that kind of despair.

When her babies, 4-month-old Zion and Zoe were born, they didn't have a home. Ma'Lissa had been living in the street.

"I've been homeless since I was 18 and I got out of prison. So when I got out of prison I was already homeless," Simon said.

At a young age, she turned to drugs.

"The reason why my life is so messed up, my mom couldn't provide things for me," Simon said. "So I went to the streets looking for it."

After prison, Ma'Lissa became pregnant with twins. Her situation caught the attention of L.A. Care social workers.

Sheena Savdharia said: "she wanted to make a difference in her life and she matched all the criteria of what were looking for, and we saw what she was going through."

So they decided to give her a slot in a state program to house 300 homeless people in the next 5 years. Ma'Lissa Simon is the first.

In LA County, roughly 58,000 people are without homes. LA Care has invested $20 million into the project.

John Baackes, L.A. Care's CEO, believes housing is one of the most important factors in keeping people healthy and lowering the costs to society.

"The cost pressures on Medicaid as a publicly financed health insurance program will continue to go up. So we need to be addressing the social side of our members' lives," Baackes said.

Daniel Gaines is a social worker with Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles.

He said, "We've seen that it's actually more expensive to keep them in the streets because they're using emergency rooms all the time and that adds up."

Both Zion and Zoe were born 7 weeks premature. Ma'Lissa had gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and a kidney condition. She spent 40 days in the hospital.

If she hadn't gotten into this program, she and her children would have been bouncing from shelter to shelter.

It's obvious Ma'Lissa's new apartment in Long Beach has made an immediate impact on her health.

Her social worker agrees.

Savdharia said, "Housing is healthcare. I found that mental health changes immediately and physical health changes as someone's housed."

Social workers will check in to help her deal with all her new challenges. And Ma'Lissa said she wants to go to school to become a nurse. But for now, she's focused on being there for her babies.

"All the support that I do have. I can call on people when I got problems," she said. "That's a good feeling."
Related Topics:
healthCircle of Healthhealth carehomelessLong BeachLos Angeles County
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