The Coalition for a Healthy Oregon (COHO) has begun meeting on a weekly basis during the pandemic to share ideas, concerns, and solutions that we have found to work in our own communities. From food resources and security solutions to leveraging current resources to meet new needs, we have worked to gather and enact comprehensive ways CCOs can aid their communities during this time.

One health-related concern that is especially hard to tackle is securing housing for OHP members who are currently unhoused our will become houseless throughout the pandemic. We know that many may lose their housing due to interpersonal violence, loss of a job, or other factors.

For these reasons, COHO CCOs put their heads together on policy solutions and ideas, as well as other on-the-ground tips to tackle houselessness, especially during times of crisis.

CCOs across the state are working to leverage their current global budget and put money allocated towards Social Determinant of Health & Equity (SDoH-E) spending toward housing assistance for OHP members. This includes rental support for those have housing but may have lost a job. In some cases, hotel rooms have been utilized for survivors of domestic violence and high-risk individuals experiencing houselessness. This tactic works in well-populated and urban areas, as there are many hotel rooms that can be rented.

Some CCOs that serve areas in more rural areas of Oregon do not always have this luxury. Some areas of Oregon have one or two motels or hotels, but often these do not have the capacity to house the number of OHP members that need to be sheltered. Another catch for utilizing the Medicaid dollars that make up the CCOs’ global budgets is they may not be used for brick and mortar. This means that CCOs must contract with other businesses and organizations if they need to build housing to shelter their members.

Big cities like Portland have begun utilizing spacious entertainment centers, that have a plethora of showers/locker rooms, like the MODA center in order to shelter Oregonians. Because the Metro regional government owns this center, it was fairly easy to use this space as a shelter. Again, not all rural towns and cities across Oregon have access to large stadiums.

However, the cities and towns across Oregon all own something, right? Some plot of land, some tennis courts, a school, even? Big spaces that have lots of bathrooms and showers could serve this purpose while they are closed due to the pandemic. Schools would be especially convenient, as they have dedicated places for consuming meals, recreational activities, and the like. Sports facilities, like indoor tennis courts, or university/community college sport’s facilities would be another place Oregonians could safely be housed through this pandemic. If the land, sports facility, or school is owned by the city or county, realistically, that city or county can grant access to CCOs to utilize during pandemics.

These are complex issues with no easy answers. We welcome the community’s input as we continue to do everything possible to support our members.