Life on the streets is hard. Far too often people experiencing homeless die on the streets. It’s horrible when anyone dies homeless, yet it’s even worse that most of the deaths can be avoided. Homeless people are often thought of as being survivors, but what I learned from Dr. Jim O’Connell in an interview I recorded five years ago, the death rate of people experiencing homelessness is higher than any other subgroup in America.
A few months back I was honored to be able to visit Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, which is one place I have been trying to visit ever since I first met Dr. Jim O’Connell. Many years ago we were invited to be on the leadership team when 100,000 Homes Campaign was just starting. Although I was once homeless myself, I was just learning about homeless service models, and Dr. Jim, besides being a really nice guy, he quickly rose to my hero list. A tour of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program was on my bucket list.
Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s integrated care model unites physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, case managers and behavioral health professionals to provide health care services and support to people experiencing homelessness. At the time of this interview, BHCHP had over 25 physicians, 40 nurse practitioners, and 100 nurses providing services both out on the streets and in over 60 locations including shelters and hospitals.
While touring Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s facilities, I could not help but notice it was at a whole different level than other homeless health care services I have visited. It was as if I was walking through a real hospital. I turned to Dr. Munson to ask how is this even possible, and he informed me that in Massachusetts people who are chronically homeless are covered by Medicaid. That’s simply amazing!
As I travel, there is not a lot of difference between what homelessness looks like except when traveling to countries that provide health care to everyone! In the UK for example, you do not see people with disabilities and mental illness on the streets like you do here. Either health care engages so a person is never homeless or when someone ends up on the streets health care helps them get the support they need to get out of homelessness.
Yesterday while walking around Boston I met an older homeless man. Jim told me that just last week he had a tumor removed. I asked him if he knew of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. He informed me Dr. Jim O’Connell and Dr. David Munson are his doctors and went on to say he is on a list for housing to get off the streets!
No one should die out on the streets homeless! Please support the health care for the homeless programs in your community.
Related video: Tommy ended up in the hospital for pneumonia from sleeping outside.