Hauff named president-elect of national homeless group

Hauff named president-elect of national homeless group

Yakima Neighborhood Health CEO is president-elect of national homeless board

Normally, it’s a coup for the community when someone from around here winds up in a national position of some sort.

In Rhonda Hauff’s case, however, it might be the other way around.

Hauff, CEO of Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, is the new president-elect of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, considered the country’s leading organization in the effort to connect people experiencing homelessness with health care.

While Hauff — who’s been a member of the NHCHC’s national board since 2018 — will be in a prime spot to learn about programs and strategies being tried in other communities, she’ll also be able to share what’s been working in the Yakima Valley.

And that’s quite a bit, as it turns out.

Hauff started working at Neighborhood Health in 1983, and she helped found the Homeless Network of Yakima County in 2004.

Though she holds a master’s degree from George Washington University, she’s learned a doctorate’s worth from her hands-on work in Yakima over the past few decades.

For example, she realized years ago how much housing availability affects health. She’s also learned how much more a community can accomplish when local organizations collaborate effectively.

That first point became clear to Neighborhood Health nearly two decades ago as the organization worked to understand how it could do better at providing care to people experiencing homelessness.

One of the most emphatic answers: “We need a place to go when we’re sick.”

But if you have no home, where can you recuperate? How can you rest up and heal if you’re sleeping in the bushes?

Seeing how critical the need was got Neighborhood Health involved in directly providing medical respite housing, Hauff said. And getting a health care organization into the housing business necessitated the advice and cooperation of other organizations.

Partnering with Yakima County, Neighborhood Health started with five one-bedroom apartments. Today, it manages 90 housing units — in Yakima, Toppenish, Sunnyside, Granger and Grandview. Ten units are reserved for medical respite and include the services of a registered nurse, a behavioral health specialist, an outreach worker, a care coordinator/case manager and a housing specialist.

The success of Neighborhood Health’s housing outreach, Hauff is quick to point out, is in large part a result of working with other agencies and organizations.

And the benefits to the community aren’t just altruistic, she said. Putting roofs over heads takes a load off local emergency rooms and first responders, saving time and money for both.

Overall, Hauff said Neighborhood Health spends roughly $15,000 a year for each housing unit it oversees, including rent and the costs of personal health services for clients. That beats paying for a year’s worth of calls to rescue crews who end up transporting chronically ill people to ERs night after night.

“It’s proven to be far less expensive to put them into housing,” she said.

The needs can add up quickly. Of the 35,872 patients Neighborhood Health saw last year, 3,903 were experiencing homelessness.

As a medium-sized city, Yakima is still small enough for leaders of various agencies and organizations to know one another on a personal level, Hauff said. That makes communication simpler and often allows conversations to start with a simple proposition:

“How can we collaborate?”

With her national platform, Hauff will be able to show what Yakima has overcome and how it has accomplished what it has.

Already, organizations from around the country are looking to Yakima as a model for addressing homelessness. Efforts here have been featured in some professional articles, Hauff said.

So when she grabs that gavel and takes office for the 2023-24 term as president of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, people will be listening.

“It’s a big honor, that’s for sure,” Hauff said.

Reach John Taylor at jtaylor@yakimaherald.com.

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