New Mexico Celebrates Health Care for the Homeless Day

From its beginnings as a foundation-funded demonstration program, Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless (AHCH) has been distinguished from many other homeless programs by its balanced commitments to direct service, policy advocacy, consumer involvement, and ending homelessness. In December 1983, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, with the support of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, announced a joint $25 million five-year program to fund a new initiative, the Health Care for the Homeless Program. Through a competitive process, 19 initial demonstration projects across the U.S. were funded. AHCH was one of them and formally established in 1985 in Albuquerque, NM. AHCH has remained the only health care organization in Central New Mexico dedicated exclusively to providing services to people who are experiencing homelessness. An Airstream trailer served as a well supplied mobile clinic that provided health care at various locations around Albuquerque where people experiencing homelessness were likely to congregate. 2020 marked the 35th anniversary of AHCH and the other 18 initial demonstration projects across the U.S. For the HCH movement, housing is health care and both are fundamental human rights. For 35 years, housing and health care are still at the core of our movement and the AHCH mission.

Over 7,000 people experiencing homelessness were served at AHCH in 2020 which includes visits for primary medical, dental, and behavioral
health care. An additional 10,000 contacts were made during outreach services through the Harm Reduction Program and other outreach activities, including our trans-disciplinary Street Medicine teams (Source: 2020 Statistics Summary, AHCH, 2021).

People experience homelessness and poverty not only in the metro area of our state, but also in regions like Farmington, Taos, and Las Cruces. The New Mexico HCH caucus includes AHCH and First Nations Community HealthSource in Albuquerque; El Centro Family Health in Espanola; La Familia Medical Center and Presbyterian Medical Services, Santa Fe and a service area that includes San Juan County, and Amador Health Center in Las Cruces. During National Health Center Week , August 8 to 14, 2021, an annual celebration with the goal of raising awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s health centers, together we will join communities across the country in elevating the work community health centers have done while fighting on the front lines of COVID-19. The theme is: “Community Health Centers: The Chemistry for Strong Communities.” AHCH is leading the online activities to bring awareness to our communities about the impactful work the New Mexico HCH caucus makes available to people who need us most.

During National Health Center Week, Health Care for the Homeless Day is recognized on Monday, August 9 and is co-sponsored by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. Bobby Watts, Chief Executive Officer of the national council and a member of President Biden’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force said: “The National Health Care for the Homeless Council is grateful that Monday, August 9, 2021, is recognized as Health Care for the Homeless Day as part of Health Center Week. The 300 Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) programs serve more than one million patients experiencing homelessness each year. In addition to comprehensive primary care, HCH programs all provide mental health, substance use disorder, and outreach services. Services are delivered where the person experiencing homelessness is – in soup kitchens, shelters, in encampments and on the street.
The National Health Care for the Homeless Council joins in celebrating the nation’s 1,400 health centers during Health Center Week and appreciate the recognition of the role that HCH programs – like the outstanding Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless Program – play in delivering health care and human services to our most vulnerable neighbors. We know that housing and health care are human rights, and we celebrate the organizations and individuals who work to secure those rights – on Health Care for the Homeless Day and every day of the year.”

Collectively, health centers serve 1.3 million individuals experiencing homelessness each year, with about 1 million of these individuals served by the nearly 295 health centers that receive health care for the homeless funding. In New Mexico, health centers saw a total of 336,909 patients and 16,744 were seen in an HCH clinic for persons experiencing homelessness (Source: AHCH Needs Assessment, 2020).

Currently, New Mexico has established a network of 5 health care for the homeless projects. Jenny Metzler, AHCH Chief Executive Officer said: “While we lament the continuing crisis of homelessness and subsequent relevance of the Health Care for the Homeless model, we also celebrate and advocate this comprehensive, person-centered, integrated and accessible model of health care. We’ve long said, since we collaborated in the founding of the HCH movement in 1985, that it is a good and necessary model of care — for anyone.

For now, we need to exist. And until our communities eliminate homelessness and shape health systems to serve anyone equitably and well, regardless of income, housing status, race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and ability, we will work to the highest standards of care and innovation for the population without homes. It has been tremendously energizing to have 5 other Federally Qualified Health Centers in New Mexico who share this commitment and that are also designated as Health Care for the Homeless providers. We feel the solidarity and support and shared learning opportunities across this “HCH Caucus” and the New Mexico Primary Care Association leadership and are energized by the possibilities it presents for improving the health and well being of those who live in this state and who are unhoused.”

The New Mexico HCH caucus will build upon last year’s collaboration and will continue raising awareness of Community Health Centers who are patient-centered organizations that serve populations with limited access to health care. Although all health centers provide care to very low-income people, health care for the homeless programs expand care to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness, people who are undocumented, and people experiencing poverty in New Mexico.

Health Care for the Homeless Day is a time celebrate the work being done at health care for the homeless clinics and to advocate for policies that end homelessness by providing opportunities into housing and comprehensive integrated health care. Exciting advancements over the last year include: El Centro Family Health in Española, NM (left) has integrated housing assessments into routine medical visits for most patients. Delmiria Sanchez of El Centro Family Health said: “…everyone from our community health workers and our clinical staff are working with people who are homeless into getting them into homes then they begin referrals for their health needs.” Collaboration is a value of El Centro Family Health. Currently, the organization shares a building with the regional New Mexico Department of Health public health office, which insures people are also receiving other services such as syringe exchange and rapid Hep C testing.

People who experience homelessness incur a number of health issues on the streets or in shelters and being without housing can exacerbate current health conditions. People without homes endure higher rates of chronic and acute disease, behavioral health conditions, and other needs that make them particularly vulnerable to poor health, disability, and early death. The New Mexico HCH clinics provides high-quality, comprehensive primary and behavioral health care, case management, outreach, and other supportive services to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. In fact, Eva Videla, Amador Health Center (left) Resource Development Coordinator said: “Amador Health Center serves people who are undocumented and people who are experiencing homelessness at one central location in Las Cruses which has a transitional housing program, a kitchen, a food bank, a medical clinic, and a syringe exchange program. We have been a hub for those who needed us during COVID-19 and we will still be here for our community.” Due to the nature of homelessness, services are intentionally provided in trauma-informed ways that provide healing, choice, safety, and trust while honoring consumers as partners in care and experts in their own lives. In 2022, Amador Health Clinic will expand its services to include additional affordable housing units, behavioral health services, and a dental clinic.

Join us in celebrating and follow announcements and updates on social media by using the hashtags #NHCW21, #HCHDay and #ValueCHCs.

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