10 Aug National Health Center Week — The Importance of Providing Specialized Medical Care for People Experiencing Homelessness
By: Nathalie Interiano
Director of Policy and Advocacy
Care for the Homeless
Care For the Homeless (CFH) has 35 years of experience providing medical and mental health services exclusively to people experiencing homelessness in New York City. We operate 26 federally qualified community health centers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Our service sites are co-located at facilities operated by other non-profits Care that include shelters for single adults and families, assessment centers, soup kitchens and drop-in centers. Additionally, our community-based health center model brings services directly to neighborhoods where the need is most significant. Both models reduce barriers homeless New Yorkers regularly face in navigating a complex health care system.
Our mission at CFH is to fight homelessness by delivering high-quality and client-centered health care, human services and shelter to homeless individuals and families. People experiencing homelessness do not have easy or convenient access to essential services hindering opportunities to work, the ability to maintain healthy lives and to obtain and keep permanent housing. But, how does addressing someone’s health needs contribute to the fight against homelessness? This week CFH will be sharing stories that show the impact that health-related interventions have on our most vulnerable neighbors, and how those interventions help to end homelessness. This week of recognition is part of our annual “Summer Success Celebration” where we highlight the stories of clients who have overcome incredible obstacles to achieve success.
The following are some of those stories:
Ms. Jennifer Dulio was homeless for two and a half years, living on the streets and in and out of shelters. She was also struggling with an opioid addiction that began when she took pain killers for a back surgery. While homeless, Ms. Dulio visited a drop-in center in the Bronx with a CFH health center on site. She eventually enrolled in our suboxone program and has maintained sobriety for 6 months. She moved back to New Jersey, reunited with her family, and found employment where she has recently been promoted to manager. She also moved into her own apartment. Ms. Dulio now wants to go back to school to be a substance abuse counselor to help those that are struggling with addiction.
Ms. Fulvia Frazier lived in New York with her husband and kids. She worked two jobs, one as a social worker and one in a group home. The work kept her busy, so she turned the responsibility of managing the finances to her husband. She later found that her husband had not paid the rent or their utilities and had depleted their savings. The family ended up getting evicted and that is how she became homeless. She spent some time sleeping on family’s couches with her son. To cope with the stress and trauma she turned to drinking. She was eventually hospitalized and subsequently enrolled in a recovery program. At this point, she went into the shelter system and was placed in a CFH shelter, Susan’s Place. There Ms. Frazier quickly took advantage of the services offered, including the health services at the on-site health center. She recently found housing, a brand-new Studio apartment in a neighborhood where she once lived!
Mr. G was born and raised in the Bronx. He retired four years ago after which he experienced a difficult period. Eventually he was connected to a nonprofit in the Bronx where he was able to receive a variety of services, including medical services at CFH’s on site health center. Despite all the obstacles he encountered he was finally able to move into a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx in July of 2020. He has been able to change his diet and prioritize exercise in his OWN apartment, something that has helped immensely in managing his diabetes. Mr. G helps other people in the community to access the same services that helped him. He says that he wants to continue being the kind of person that listens to people and treats everyone with respect.
Ms. Jacqueline Iciano grew up in New Jersey where she married at a young age. After dealing with the trauma of domestic violence, she spent several years battling substance use, an addiction that she was able to overcome. In New York, Ms. Iciano trained as a home attendant, an industry that she worked in for several years. She encountered some health challenges that led to her losing her job, followed by her housing, and she became homeless. She entered the shelter system where she was connected to a variety of supportive services, including health care, and after 9 months she has been able to secure housing! Ms. Iciano says, “I am going to fully appreciate my life, take care of myself and be smarter about my life decisions.” With housing stability, Ms. Iciano plans on getting her GED and working as a translator.
These are just a few of the stories that we will be highlighting this week. The goal of the “Summer Success Celebration” is to recognize the achievements of people overcoming the incredible obstacles of homelessness during the most difficult circumstances, especially during the pandemic. The goal is also to destigmatize what it means to be homeless because people going through the traumatic experience of homelessness, often for causes far beyond their control, are unfairly stigmatized. If there are 55,000 people in homeless shelters tonight, there are 55,000 individual stories of how and why they came to suffer this cruel experience. Sharing these stories, and the importance of health care interventions, helps to change public perception and realize the dignity of people experiencing homelessness.
Many times, health care access is the first step out of homelessness, and we are proud to be able to play a key role in the communities we serve, lighting the way for healthier communities today and in the future.