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Bringing Health Care to the Homeless

Written by Claire F. Goyer

August, 2010

One again, the staff, board and clients of the Duffy Health Center today celebrates Health Care for the Homeless Day as part of the National Health Center Week 2010.

The theme this year is Celebrating America’s Health Centers: Turning the Vision into Reality. This theme is certainly timely, as our communities are increasingly stressed by local, state and national economic conditions, high unemployment and record need. When times are tough it is tempting to focus only on the immediate, but this is when it is even more critical to keep the vision in the forefront, and to continue to put our core beliefs into action.

Duffy Health Center’s mission is to prevent and reduce homelessness on Cape Cod through community collaborations and the provision of integrated medical, behavioral health, case management and housing services to persons who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We believe no one should experience homelessness. We embrace a vision of a community where everyone is safely and stably housed.

These core beliefs underpin every interaction we have with individuals who seek or receive our services. As health care providers we know housing is a key component to good health, and staff work tirelessly to ensure that each individual is supported to regain or retain housing. This is not an easy task.

In 2009 we served 2,600 clients from every community on Cape Cod. Many of our clients have suffered numerous losses, culminating in the threat of, or actual loss of, a place to live.

Homelessness or risk of homelessness leads to chronic anxiety and fear, further compounding an often desperate situation. Providing a health care home is not enough for individuals who have no personal home to live in. Without a home address, the impediments multiply.

Where do cards or letters from family go? How do you manage your diabetes without nutritious food or a place to store your insulin? What address do you give a prospective employer? How can you focus on managing your anxiety or depression when you have no quiet personal space to feel safe? Stable housing is the foundation upon which people build their lives.

To make our vision a reality, we focus not only on what we can provide to clients within Duffy walls, but we embrace partnerships and solutions. We are truly fortunate that we have a network of community members, organizations and elected officials who are also focused on a vision of Cape Cod where everyone is a stable and contributing member.

Vision is not fluff. Vision is hard work. It requires an honest assessment of what works and what doesn’t. It requires a willingness to set your differences aside and work toward a common goal. It requires good will, honesty and open dialogue.

This was most recently demonstrated by the hard work of case managers from multiple agencies who made the vision of a home a reality for a significant percentage of the individuals identified in the Hyannis Main Street Initiative. Using strategies that have been identified as national best practices, case managers tirelessly worked together to implement the initiative’s vision and goals.

When we began in March 2009, 63 of the identified individuals were homeless; one year later only 12 were identified as homeless. These are results worth celebrating as a community, and Duffy is proud to be a lead partner in this project.

As we work toward new strategies to reduce and prevent homelessness on Cape Cod, we need to be sure to “bring our vision to the table.” Tomorrow’s reality is today’s vision.

Claire F. Goyer is chief executive officer of the Duffy Health Center in Hyannis.