Stronger Together

By Jack Toan, Chief Operating Officer, Illumination Foundation

When Illumination Foundation was choosing a theme for our recent consortium, the choice quickly became obvious. In the work we do as a homeless services provider, we see the inequities that vulnerable populations face on a daily basis. We know that unstable housing and structural barriers to accessing healthcare are closely connected concepts. We believe that in order to disrupt the cycle of homelessness, multi-sector collaboration is imperative. The theme we selected, “Together We Can: Solutions to Address Health Equity,” was a call to action.

As our nation has, belatedly, begun to realize the necessity of promoting equity and inclusion in social policies, we wanted to assemble thought leaders from around the country to address not only health equity, but related issues centered around equity and inequality. We are grateful to the 21 speakers from governmental agencies, nonprofits, businesses, healthcare providers, private foundations, and educational institutions who joined us in Anaheim for the one-day event. Their knowledge, compassion, and commitment to inclusion in all aspects of life was energizing. I would like to list them all, to thank them publicly, but space is limited. However, please see https://event.auctria.com for all speakers and additional resources.

Jack Toan, COO Illumination Foundation
Panel Discussion: Transforming Public Health and Education to Promote Social Justice
Panel Discussion: Eliminating Structural Barriers to Accessing Healthcare

Through panel discussions and questions from the audience of more than 350 attendees, our speakers addressed the structural barriers to healthcare access faced by persons. They discussed the systemic racism that historically has kept persons of color out of the housing market. They deplored an American workforce that for so long has ignored the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. These highly successful individuals spoke about their personal experiences, how in many cases their ethnicity, or color, or gender, or age had been used against them in their careers. Although they have beat the odds and gone on to great success, many others have not been as fortunate. In their work, they advocate for the others:  the homeless, the persons of color, the seniors, the poor. They advocate for everyone who has been harmed by decades of noninclusive policies that created deep-rooted societal inequities. 

Over and over again, our speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration among diverse sectors—government, private business, nonprofits, healthcare organizations, educators, and law enforcement—in order to repair the country’s broken systems. As our keynote speaker, Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President of the AARP Foundation, a charitable affiliate of AARP focused on ending senior poverty, said: “Communities must invest in cross-sectors and we must have the patience to design solutions.”

Over and over again, our speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration among diverse sectors—government, private business, nonprofits, healthcare organizations, educators, and law enforcement—in order to repair the country’s broken systems.

Perhaps that sounds overwhelming to you. Particularly the part about patience. How long is it going to take? But our speakers were optimistic, sharing encouraging news about collaborative initiatives that are already in place across the country. For example, nursing schools and healthcare organizations have joined together to increase diversity in the nursing profession. Municipalities and healthcare organizations have joined to deliver healthcare to underserved, vulnerable populations. Nonprofit organizations, government, and private funders have joined to increase the supply of affordable housing. Nonprofits, government, and healthcare organizations have joined together to promote the social determinants of health. Law enforcement, government, nonprofits, private funders, and healthcare organizations have joined to reduce barriers to accessing mental health care. 

Illumination Foundation’s integrated model of care focuses on the delivery of housing and healthcare. In order to provide stability for the historically oppressed individuals and families that our organization serves, we must not only find them housing, but also lower the barriers that prevent them from accessing quality healthcare. 

This is no small task. But the alternative—status quo—is simply not an option. The deeply entrenched problems that systemic inequality has created are unjust, and our broken social systems are not sustainable. 

At Illumination Foundation, we choose to be optimistic about the future. The spirit, know-how, and determination we witnessed during our consortium was inspiring. Together, we can. 

Learn more about housing and healthcare for those experiencing homelessness at www.ifhomeless.org.

As a refugee whose family relied on the kindness of strangers, Jack Toan understands the power of a collective community that cares and actively works to lift others up. His experience drives his belief in creating social change through action. In February 2021, he joined Orange County, California-based Illumination Foundation as Chief Operating Officer. Illumination Foundation’s mission is to disrupt the cycle of homelessness. 

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