Kaiser Permanente is joining forces with the mayors of some of the country's largest cities to combat homelessness and housing insecurity.
The health system will invest $200 million in initiatives to improve access to affordable housing through a partnership with Mayors and CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment, it announced on Friday. Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson said at a press briefing that the investment reflects Kaiser's commitment to promoting total person and community health.
"I'm always excited about giving away money," Tyson said, "but this is not a giveaway, this is an investment."
Tyson was joined at the briefing by mayors from Oakland, California; Alexandria, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Baltimore. The investment will be used to establish a fund, but the health system hasn't yet determined which specific programs to invest in, said Bechara Choucair, M.D., Kaiser's senior vice president and chief community health officer.
Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, where Kaiser is based, said it's crucial for corporations to address unmet community needs, including housing insecurity. There is a mutual benefit for municipalities and companies since it provides resources that improve the overall workforce and quality of life. She pointed to a "tent city" of homeless residents located downtown that city officials are trying to house.
"A great city like Oakland should not look like that," Schaaf said. "A great country like America should not live like that."
Choucair said Kaiser Permanente is seeking to kick-start and participate in a national dialogue about homelessness and the other social determinants of health. As someone who worked in a healthcare for the homeless program as part of his medical training, Choucair said he's "seen firsthand the impact of housing on health."
Tyson said Kaiser's size allows it to address big problems such as homelessness in ways that are scalable and could be adapted by others.
"I can't imagine what it must feel like to put my head to the streets of America to go to sleep," Tyson said, "but I can imagine what it will feel like when we solve this problem for our country."