Permanent supportive housing initiatives connecting vulnerable Washingtonians to needed services


Shane Ersland


Permanent supportive housing (PSH) initiatives are connecting some of Washington’s most vulnerable people with healthcare and habitation resources. Those helping Washingtonians acquire that assistance discussed their work at the 2024 Washington State of Reform Health Policy Conference. 

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Melodie Pazolt is the managing director of the Office of Apple Health and Homes and PSH at the Washington State Department of Commerce. The state’s legislature created the office with the passage of House Bill 1866 in 2022 to focus on efforts to increase capacity, quality, and sustainability of affordable housing units dedicated to PSH. 

“We have a housing crisis in Washington,” Pazolt said. “We need about a million houses in the next 20 years. And (in) PSH, we need 220,000 units. We have about 8,000 PSH units in Washington. With that specific part of this initiative, it’s not [about] just building housing; it’s forming partnerships between the services, the capital, and the rent.”

Scott Tankersley, Foundation Community Supports (FCS) program administrator at the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA), said FCS provides two services that are managed by Wellpoint

“One is supportive employment services and the other is supportive housing services. These services aim to address the social determinants of health of housing and employment. FCS had a few pilot programs in the state. Those services showed us that PSH and supportive employment services are a really great benefit for folks to receive in order to maintain or obtain housing or employment security.”

— Tankersley

Over 14,000 individuals are currently enrolled in those FCS services, Tankersley said. 

“Over 40,000 individuals have been served by FCS services since its inception,” he added. “And we have over 220 providers serving people across 550 locations across the state.”

Yakima Neighborhood Health Services CEO Rhonda Hauff said the organization provides supportive housing and employment services through the FCS program.

“Several of our staff are providing both of those services,” Hauff said. “We’re working on identifying (clients’) natural abilities to help them develop whatever their skills are in terms of supportive employment. Last year, we did a little over 2,000 encounters for supportive housing and 765 encounters for supportive employment. Additionally, in terms of encounters through FCS, we’re an access point in Yakima, so we’re helping (clients) get into housing.”

The organization helps clients attain health insurance, rental assistance, and food assistance, Hauff said. 

“The majority of people who come to us are very low-income. The integration of health and housing is near and dear to our hearts. Providers came to us and said, ‘If you want us to make a difference in people’s lives, we need help putting a roof over people’s heads.’ That’s when we started learning about PSH. 

Now we have 141 PSH units—most of which we own—in Yakima. In the lower Yakima Valley, where housing is even more difficult to find, we master lease from private landlords. One of the trends we’re seeing is that a significant number of our folks in PSH are aging. We’re seeing an older population moving into our services.”

— Hauff

Yakima Neighborhood Health Services also provides medical respite care, Hauff said. 

“It’s recuperative care for people who are living unsheltered or living in a shelter,” she said. “They need a place to recuperate. They’re [for people] not sick enough to be in a hospital, and those coming out of a hospital [who] need a place to recuperate. We have two permanent medical respite programs. We have shelter vouchers for a hotel/motel for people for overflow purposes. We have also (had) an isolation and quarantine program for people in Yakima County since the pandemic.”

Carter Kimble, principal at Health Management Associates (HMA), said HMA has found many barriers in working with housing data, and how to make it interoperable with health systems. 

“We are in the very beginning stages of propping up a federal alliance around standardizing data,” Kimble said. “ Not just how we share it, but what it is and how it’s defined. We start with a group of regulators. 

We have already engaged (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and some others at the federal level to say, ‘We’re going to have this conversation. We want you to be a part of it.’ And they were very excited. We think Washington is a great place for this to start.”

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