By Megy Karydes
The cycle is familiar to many living in poverty. Charles was trying to land on his feet after a short-term incarceration, but he encountered barriers to obtaining health insurance as well as housing. Without a home, his health worsened. Without a home or healthcare, he was unable to maintain a job. And without that income, he was unable to afford a home. Medicaid expansion provided the comprehensive health benefits Charles needed to improve his health and hold a steady job in order to escape homelessness, says Daniel Rabbitt, health policy project manager with Heartland Alliance.
Heartland Alliance, the leading antipoverty organization in the Midwest, aims to break that cycle by providing housing, healthcare, job training and other supports to those living in poverty as well as advocating for permanent policy solutions that alleviate poverty. Among the many programs it provides, its Policy and Advocacy team works to reduce barriers to healthcare for those who need it and cannot access it.
“Many of our participants are not only experiencing poverty, but are also grappling with other challenges, like addiction, chronic homelessness or mental illness,” Rabbitt says. “Our policy team works with staff and participants to identify barriers to health coverage and advance solutions to increase access.”
Individuals experiencing homelessness, severe mental illness and other significant problems are often the most expensive users of publicly funded programs, according to Rabbitt. “Ensuring [that] our participants have access to community treatment not only improves their lives but also saves taxpayer dollars in the long run by avoiding unnecessary stints in hospitals or institutions,” he says. “Providing reliable access also honors the fundamental human rights of those experiencing homelessness and other significant challenges. Full access to healthcare services is essential to have the opportunity everyone deserves to achieve good health and improve their lives. That should be important to all Illinoisans.”
People can help improve the lives of those who are struggling by treating them with respect and by letting elected officials know that policies that address poverty in their communities and throughout Illinois are important. Many antipoverty organizations, including Heartland Alliance, operate email lists that can keep you informed of current issues and policy.
“Improving health policy is really about protecting human rights,” Rabbitt says. “Everyone has the opportunity to get involved in this work on some level.”