Healthier neighborhoods make healthier residents

Sabrina McMiller and her family smile outside the front door of their new home.
Sabrina and her family have a home and a new life.

Sabrina McMiller first experienced homelessness after her divorce in February 2021.

She and her six children packed up and left home in Indiana to make a fresh start. What followed were months of short-term stays with various relatives, checking into shelters and sleeping out of her minivan.

“It was a lot of scary nights, with no support — nobody to really care what was happening to us,” she says. “It’s hard to explain you're homeless in a way that people really understand, so you kind of just keep the shame of it all bottled up in yourself.”

Housing is a social determinant of health — the conditions and environments where people live, learn, work and play — that impact up to 80% of health outcomes.

“In order to make a real impact in advancing health equity in America, we need to focus on addressing social determinants of health on a very local level,” says Eileen Boone, SVP Corporate Social Responsibility & Philanthropy. “It’s about meeting people where they are and providing them with the resources and services they need to live healthier lives.”

To that end, CVS Health has launched a new initiative called Health Zones in Atlanta, Georgia; Columbus, Ohio; Fresno, California; Phoenix, Arizona; and Hartford, Connecticut. The goal is to reduce health disparities related to housing insecurity, education, labor, access to food, health care and transportation. Additional Health Zone markets are planned for in the future.

Breaking the cycle

Eventually, the McMiller family found their way to UMOM New Day Centers in Phoenix, an organization focused on ending homelessness and a nonprofit partner of CVS Health. They moved into an apartment last November and Sabrina found a job.

Her experience shows why “housing first” is a national best practice for helping people in need, says Jackson Fonder, CEO of UMOM. “Get people into housing that gets them stable, then you can begin to connect them with the right help so that they can help themselves break the cycle of homelessness.”

UMOM provides safe shelter and support services for over 160 families and 130 single women daily; they also offer over 550 affordable housing units. A new affordable housing village called Newsom Village, which CVS Health contributed to, is opening this year, with another community set to open in 2023.

“It’s just like a weight lifted off,” adds Sabrina. “To not have your kids out on the street or having to eat in a car or be rushed to school, it just brings peace.”