Calling it one of the biggest private investments ever in affordable housing, Kaiser Permanente pledged to spend as much as $200 million to try to end homelessness in America.
Officials with the nonprofit health care provider announced the investment Friday in Washington, D.C., with Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and mayors from Alexandria, Va., Oakland, Calif., and Portland, Ore.
“Maryland is one of the richest states in the country,” Pugh told the crowd. “Yet homelessness permeates the streets of our city.”
The pledge by Kaiser Permanente continues a trend among health care providers to consider stable housing fundamental to a person’s health. But unlike similar campaigns, the money won’t be handed out in grants to those who apply.
“This is not a giveaway; this is an investment,” Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson said. “We expect a return on this, and the return will go back into the community.”
He said Kaiser’s intention was to end homelessness in America, calling it a “solvable problem.”
Affordable housing projects in Baltimore and elsewhere are eligible for the money. Kaiser Permanente will assemble an advisory board that will work with regional offices to identify and invest in projects.
Pugh said some 3,000 people sleep on the streets of Baltimore. On her way back to the city, the mayor said she already encouraged Tyson to invest in Baltimore.
“We will certainly be putting in a proposal,” she said. “They recognize that we are in need of these kinds of monies.”
Pugh said she envisions the money invested in local efforts to build new affordable homes and rehab vacant houses for the homeless. Only the coming months will tell how much money Kaiser invests in Baltimore and what sorts of projects attract the money.
Kaiser Permanente provides health care for more than 12 million people in eight states, including Maryland, Virginia, California, Oregon and elsewhere.
Affordable housing projects in all of these states are eligible.
Across Maryland, more than 31,000 people received homeless services last year, according to the state’s annual report on homelessness. That’s an increase of 4.6 percent from 2016.
During Friday’s announcement, Pugh described how the homeless pitched tents outside City Hall last year.
“They were begging for opportunities to be housed,” she said.
In Baltimore last August, officials bused 55 people from the makeshift tent city in front of City Hall to a temporary shelter in West Baltimore.
Two months later, Pugh said it would cost $350 million to end homelessness in Baltimore. She announced plans to begin raising money from the private sector. She also appointed a task force to consider the problem of homelessness in the city. Its members determined permanent housing to be the key.
Kaiser Permanente’s pledge offers the chance to attract additional money to Baltimore.
“Many people tend to walk past homeless individuals as if they don’t see them,” Pugh said. “The reality is, only by the grace of God, it could be any of us.”