Jesse Tree of Idaho improves health care with housing assistance

Jesse Tree has been awarded a $100,000 grant that will help create a new position to address residents facing eviction’s health and wellness issues.

BOISE, Idaho — A new partnership in the Treasure Valley is hoping to fill, what some call, “a much-needed gap” in housing assistance services. Jesse Tree has been awarded a $100,000 grant by Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation Health that will help create a new position that will address residents facing eviction’s health and wellness issues.

“A lot of our clients need more health support,” Jesse Tree Executive Director Ali Rabe told KTVB. “Housing and healthcare are so connected. Health issues cause eviction cause housing issues and housing loss.”

“We know that housing and healthcare are two sectors that need to be working better together to improve the health of all of our community members,” Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation Health Executive Director Kendra Witt-Doyle said.

Each month, Jesse Tree is able to work with hundreds of individuals and families to assist them with information and support for housing issues or rental assistance. According to Rabe, 25 percent of Jesse Tree clients have serious health issues that ultimately lead to their eviction.  Jesse Tree’s website mentions about 90 percent of people asking for help with rent payments do so because of an unexpected bill caused by issues like health. 

“We see tenants who have serious mental health or physical health issues that have led them to lose their jobs or have their hours cut,” Rabe said. She added there has been an increase in interruptions at work due to health-related issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help combat that growing problem and help clients facing eviction receive proper healthcare, Jesse Tree will use the grant money to create a partnership with Family Medical Residency of Idaho (FMRI). The partnership will create a Community Health Worker position that will work alongside case managers and FMRI, find clients that need health services and point them in the right direction to get the care that they need.

Grant funding will cover the cost of the position for two years.

“Access to safe and affordable housing is essential to health and wellness, and vice versa,” Dr. Ajay Giri, the FMRI medical resident partnering with Jesse Tree said in a news release. “By working together through this partnership, we will empower our neighbors who are struggling and keep them in our community.” 

“I think it’s so important, especially for Idaho, to stay ahead of this problem,” Rabe said. “We know that once people become homeless and once a community faces a really serious problem of homelessness it’s much more difficult to solve.” 

This position is a first of its kind for Jesse Tree. 

Witt-Doyle said she’s seen roles like this before in the past, but typically it’s health care providers reaching out to housing assistance agencies.

“They’re trying something pretty innovative of saying, ‘OK. We know housing and healthcare need to be worked together. Let’s put this position on the housing side and try to get our clients connected over into healthcare,” said Witt-Doyle. “We need to give back to where Idaho needs us to be and right now we know housing is one of those areas.”

Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation will check in with Jesse Tree and FMRI over the next couple of years and see how the position is working. If it’s a success, Witt-Doyle would like to take that model and offer more grants to other housing assistance agencies to create similar positions around the Gem State.

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