Thomas is a 39-year-old writer who paces back and forth in his room to think about the ideas he’ll put down on paper. The space is small and might not look like much, but it’s the first time he’s had four walls to call his own in a while. For more than two years, Thomas lived in his car. But life is looking up now that he lives in the LifeMoves supportive interim housing community in Mountain View.
LifeMoves received money from California’s Project HomeKey, an $800 million state program to construct and/or transform hotels into emergency housing during the pandemic. Blue Shield of California contributed $20 million to this massive effort, which in just a few short months has helped create over 1,100 housing units in 24 different locations.
The LifeMoves community was built from the ground up as a pioneering public and private partnership with the city of Mountain View. It has 100 rooms: 88 singles and 12 family units and is designed for residents to stay 90 – 120 days as they work with onsite wraparound services to return to stability.
“Residents not only can get something to eat, shower, and take care of their physical and mental health but are also assigned a caseworker who is a champion that believes in them to get them on the road to recovery,” says LifeMoves vice president Joanne Price. “The community is life-changing for people.”
Thomas agrees: “The case workers really want to know what your goals are rather than their goals.” Berry wants to obtain a part-time job related to writing, publish his book online in chapters, and form meaningful relationships.
“I want to form a civic life for myself and put down roots,” he said.
‘The pandemic has been a really dark time for me’
Those goals were challenging while living in his car but became impossible once the pandemic hit. Before COVID-19, Thomas kept up a fairly normal routine in spite of the fact that he was homeless. Every day, he’d work out and shower at the gym, write at the library, and sometimes work at his job selling slushies at the Oakland Coliseum. But in 2020 when the economy shut down, he lost his job and had nowhere to go during the day.
“The pandemic has been a really dark time for me,” said Thomas. “I learned to sleep in my car, but there was nothing to do for the other 16 hours of the day. Sometimes I would just lie there. I got really depressed.”
The growing homeless population
Situations like Thomas' are more common than most people realize with the shortage of housing and its prohibitive cost. Gardeners, restaurant workers, janitors, and stadium workers are making up a larger portion of the people who end up on the streets, according to Price.
Also, there’s a direct correlation between homelessness and health outcomes. If you’re out on the street, you’re less likely to have access to health care, nutritious food, a safe place to rest, all of which impact a person’s health and well-being. And it’s challenging to manage chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or substance abuse when you don’t have a stable home.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 151,278 Californians were without a home on a given night in 2020. Census data shows that 6% of Californians are Black, yet CalMatters found that a whopping 40% of California’s homeless population is Black.
These statistics call into question how systemic racism impacts homelessness and by extension health inequities, said Antoinette Mayer, Blue Shield’s senior director of corporate citizenship.
“Homelessness is a big determinant of health outcomes, and people of color make up a disproportionately large part of the homeless population,” Mayer said. “It’s a matter of racial and health equity, and Blue Shield is proud to be improving the lives of so many people. With a home, they can begin to live life to its fullest potential.
“Blue Shield’s investment in Project HomeKey connects back to part of our mission to create more equitable health care for all Californians – and that includes our unhoused community members,” she said.
Help Blue Shield of California continue to make a difference by supporting LifeMoves residents with the purchase of household items and gift cards from their Amazon Wish List. You can feed a LifeMoves family for $25 or you can sponsor a single meal for the entire LifeMoves site for $500. Meals can be purchased through ClassyMeals.