The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018: What Does it Mean for People Experiencing Homelessness?

Congress’s recent passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (OCRA) is a step in the right direction to combat growing opioid use disorder (OUD) across the country. While OCRA won’t be enough to fully solve the epidemic, it has important provisions and funding, including:

  • Reauthorizing $500 million in annual funding to address OUD.
  • Expanding access to addiction treatment and recovery services.
  • Giving the National Institutes of Health authority to “fast-track” research on alternative pain therapies.

Recognizing the Role of Housing

One of the most notable aspects of the bill is that it recognizes stable housing as a critical part of treatment and recovery — particularly for people experiencing or facing homelessness. The Act encourages states to use local Medicaid programs to pay for housing-related services for homeless people with OUD.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expected to issue a report to Congress within one year highlighting innovative programs from the states that can demonstrate better treatment outcomes or increased housing stability through Medicaid for people experiencing homelessness and OUD. HHS also plans to offer technical assistance to states for the development or expansion of housing supports that address the intersection of homelessness and OUD through state Medicaid programs.

OCRA authorizes community block grants (through 2023) to fund temporary housing for up to two years for people in treatment. This pilot program is designated for states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths and other factors such as high unemployment rates.

Taking the Next Step

Across the country, from rural to urban areas, people experiencing homelessness are affected by the opioid epidemic. The lack of housing stability makes it particularly hard to address their health and behavioral needs. The provisions in OCRA acknowledge this.

Now, it’s time for CoCs and housing providers to take advantage of the momentum. This is the time to advocate for coordinated services to serve people experiencing homelessness with OUD. Reach out to your local Medicaid programs and state offices to find out more about the pilot programs available in your community. Plan to be a vocal partner and help your state devise or strengthen its plan. Let’s take advantage of Congress’s recognition that stable housing is a critical component of addressing OUD.