"We were thinking, 'How do we make a collective impact on homelessness?'" says Nick Macchione, director of the county's health and human services agency. The problem, he says, was that homeless people didn't just need housing. They also frequently needed to be connected with other health and human services programs in order to thrive. But trying to coordinate those programs was a challenge. "We were working with many well-meaning housing providers who didn't understand how Medicaid works," he says. "And vice-versa, there was stuff related to housing that I had to learn. And all of us just want to help the same people, who all happen to be our clients."
The county had already launched a program that sought to coordinate housing, health and rehabilitation services specifically for chronically homeless people suffering from mental illness. Officials began toying with the idea of expanding that approach to combine all their efforts related to housing and the array of other programs that touch the lives of low-income residents.
The plan? A merger. As of July 1, San Diego officially merged those services into a new Health, Housing and Human Services Department. The underlying philosophy, says Macchione, who heads the new superagency, is simple: "No home, no health."
San Diego is the largest jurisdiction to pull off this kind of merger in recent years, but it's far from the only one. Governments in much of the country are looking at the idea. And as they consider it, they are bound to ponder the experiences of the real pioneer in this effort: Boulder County, Colo. Read more here.