WEST PALM BEACH — Homeless residents of Palm Beach County will be able to get health services as the Quantum Foundation awards a grant to Catholic Charities for its Healthcare for the Homeless project.
That means the agency will be able to provide health services to an estimated 1,500 homeless people throughout the county in parks, and cities such as Lake Worth, Riviera Beach, downtown West Palm Beach and in the western communities. Catholic Charities says it addressed unmet health services in the area.
“Our goals are to help the most vulnerable in the county,” said executive director Sheila Gomez.
The $150,000 grant, which was recently announced, will be made over the next three years, according to Randy Scheid, Quantum Foundation senior program officer.
Catholic Charities’ Healthcare for the Homeless was created in 2013 with a $50,000 start up grant from Quantum Foundation. The project provided direct medical services, navigation of the healthcare system and referral services to more 500 individuals in its first year.
The Foundation seeks bold and innovative projects in pursuit of its mission, which is for all the people in the county to enjoy better life through quality health.
To provide care and to address the added health complications associated with homelessness, Catholic Charities works
with numerous partners to provide a safety net specifically for the homeless. Partnering agencies include the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA), St. Ann Place Homeless Outreach Center, the Center for Family Services and Pat Reeves Village.
The VNA operates a mobile medical unit called the Big Blue Bus, that travels to areas where homeless people congregate. At one specific site, the VNA bus waits outside a daily feeding program for the homeless where hot meals are served twice a day with support from the Palm Beach County Food Bank.
“When one of Palm Beach County’s greatest social concerns is homelessness, we love to see this kind of connectivity in the health system,” said Scheid. “It’s one of the ways we’ve identified that can make a real impact on community health. Catholic Charities … has managed to coordinate and work with many groups, regardless of their denomination, all in the service of helping some of the county’s neediest people – the homeless.”
Once on board the bus, homeless clients meet with a nurse practitioner who helps them with many health issues and provides free health exams, written prescriptions, education on where best to fill a prescription, a clear action plan for care, an explanation of risks to their health and how to reduce them, assistance with the Health Care District (HCD) application process, and help finding a “medical home” where they can consistently see a primary care physician. If a client needs help getting to an appointment, bus passes are provided to them when available.
Alex Stevens, program director for Homelessness and Outreach, said the agency’s main objective is to prevent homelessness where possible. Catholic Charities, he said, receives between 200 to 300 calls per month from people wanting some form of help, including rent and utility assistance.
“We want to keep the families stable in the home so they don’t slip into homelessness,” Stevens said.
“No day is the same,” noted Bernadette Macy, program administrator for the Interfaith Health and Wellness Program at Catholic Charities. “Sometimes, we see regular clients at the same site each month but every day there are new people, new stories. Often, our clients here need wound care; they need help getting their prescriptions for diabetes or hypertension. We never know who is going to visit us on the bus but the need is great.”
Macy says the homeless community is especially overwhelmed by the need for dental services, from cleanings, to fillings and even reconstructive care for young patients. “We know a young man here who has never been to a dentist in his life,” said Macy. “He needs to see one and get some encouragement to make his dental health a part of his game plan for life.”
Dentists, dental hygienists, nurses or other medical professionals willing to see patients pro bono or donate dental supplies or equipment should call Bernadette Macy, 561-345-2000 x256.