Kaiser, Blue Shield pledge $45M to California housing fund

Hospital giant Kaiser Permanente and insurer Blue Shield of California on Friday pledged $45 million to a new state fund aimed at getting people off the streets.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order last week creating what he proposes to be a $750 million fund that could be used to pay rents, subsidize affordable housing or help board and care homes.

Kaiser is contributing $25 million and Blue Shield of California is contributing $20 million.

“Chronic homelessness has been shown to cut 27 years from the average lifespan and is associated with communicable diseases such as hepatitis and typhus, increased hospitalizations, and frequent readmissions,” said Greg Adams, CEO of Kaiser, a nonprofit healthcare company.

Paul Markovich, president & CEO of Blue Shield of California, said “addressing homelessness is a key step in ensuring health and wellness for individuals and families.”

Newsom applauded the rapid response from both companies for his initiative.

He has just wrapped up a statewide tour promoting his plan to combat spiking homelessness. Last week he declared himself California’s “homeless czar,” after promising a year ago to appoint one.

The state is in the grip of a housing and homelessness crisis. There’s too little housing that workers can afford, and the number of people who are living in their cars, temporary shelters and out in the open increased 16% over two years.

On Tuesday, Alameda County deputies evicted homeless mothers who had taken over a vacant house to protest the lack of housing for families.

The California Access to Housing and Services Fund is a major part of Newsom’s budget proposal that allocates more than $1 billion to address homelessness.

He is seeking another $695 million in state and federal matching funds for preventive health care, but some of that money could also go to helping people find housing.

Newsom has ordered state agencies to free surplus state property to house homeless people at sites along highways and at unused health care facilities, state fairgrounds and elsewhere.

State officials on Thursday delivered 15 trailers and a medical services tent to a vacant, city-owned lot in Oakland. The trailers can house up to 70 homeless people.

“No one is naive that 15 former FEMA trailers … is going to ‘solve’ the crisis,” Newsom said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s about catalyzing a focus.”

He’s also seeking nearly $25 million for three counties to experiment with putting those who are deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial into community programs instead of state psychiatric hospitals.

Kaiser Permanente is based in Oakland, where it has teamed with the group Bay Area Community Services to house more than 500 homeless adults over 50 who are battling chronic health conditions.

Blue Shield also is headquartered in Oakland.