Zufall Health Center’s Community Health Worker has been reaching out to those who are homeless and reducing barriers to seeking primary care services, made possible in part by a two-year grant from Partners for Health Foundation.
Lakshmi Silva, Zufall’s Community Health Worker, provides consistent outreach to homeless individuals in West Orange and surrounding areas, linking them with medical, human services and benefits programs to improve their health overall. She was a consistent presence at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, early childhood agencies and government offices.
Research by the National Coalition for the Homeless, the National Alliance to End Homelessness and others has shown that poor health is inextricably linked with homelessness. Among individuals struggling to pay rent or to feed their families, an illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness. Those who are homeless tend to disregard their need for care until their health conditions are dire. They are disproportionately subject to higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, teen pregnancy, late entry into prenatal care, childhood obesity, substance abuse, and significant disparities in cancer outcomes.
Ms. Silva says, “My focus is to develop a plan of action that helps each homeless person, recognizing that the lack of basic needs such as food and shelter is a barrier that prevents these individuals from moving forward to stability and health. During the past two years trusting relationships have been formed with approximately 200 homeless individuals, helping them navigate a myriad of physical and mental health issues, often accompanied by the challenges of addiction. Building confidence and trust is the key to the program’s success; it serves as a doorway to their engagement in primary care and other services.”