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Kaiser Helps Oakland “Thrive” With Affordable Housing

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According to their marketing team, Kaiser Permanente is all about the thriving, but the healthcare giant realizes it can be difficult if not impossible to “thrive” when you don’t have a roof over your head. They announced in May that they would be putting some serious money where their mouth is with a $200 million, multi-year effort to provide affordable housing for homeless and low-income residents. Part of that investment is about to pay off in Oakland.

As the East Bay Times reported Tuesday, Kaiser Permanente and Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing nonprofit out of Maryland, brokered a $8.7 million deal to purchase a 41-unit apartment building in East Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood. The intent is to preserve affordable housing in a “rapidly changing” area plagued by increasing homelessness. Between 2015 and 2017, Oakland’s homeless population grew by 25 percent.

41-unit apartment building in East Oakland acquired by Kaiser Permanente and community partners to keep below-market units available and help house homeless in Oakland, Calif. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle

The lion’s share of funding for the apartment building will come directly from the Kaiser Thriving Communities Fund, to the tune of $5.2 million. However, this move marks just the beginning of investment in the area where the very first Kaiser hospital was established in 1942. Tuesday’s announcement included additional plans to partner with the city and community groups in an effort to “identify, house and provide services for 500 vulnerable homeless people over the age of 50.”

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This initiative works to build on the $9 million homelessness prevention program that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf claims helped provide legal and financial assistance to 473 households facing evictions between the July and December, 2018. In addition, the mayor’s “34k Plan” is set to continue into 2024, which if the program works as promised will have prevented displacement for 17,000 residents and will have built another 17,000 new homes over the course of eight years. Achieving that goal will require more than a few Tuff Sheds can provide.

One of three Tuff Shed villages in Oakland, Calif., which provide shelter for some homeless residents after displacement of many more with encampment sweeps. Photo courtesy of KALW

Schaaf told reporters in October that “no one deserves to spend a single night on the street” but some critics blame the growing homeless epidemic on the the mayor’s priority to “revitalize” Oakland over the lives of people already living there. As Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation and a former Oakland city manager stated, “Oakland’s renaissance is not touching those folks who lived through its period of neglect.”

“That has become a threat to those people, rather than an opportunity.”

Kaiser Permanente recognizes the health threat to people living on streets or scratching to make ends meet in a housing market designed to appease the rich and dismiss the poor. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Bechara Choucair, Kaiser’s senior vice president and chief community health officer explained that “being homeless takes an average 27 years off someone’s life and increases the risk of communicable diseases as well as longer and more frequent emergency room visits.”

Homeless Lives Matter, Oakland, Calif. Photo courtesy of Roots Community Health Center

CEO Bernard Tyson said Tuesday that homeless is “unacceptable” and that “Kaiser Permanente believes that in the 21st century there are certain things we should resolve and certain principles we should stand for.” The East Oakland apartment building is their first step in making that stand and helping their hometown “thrive.”

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.