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Helping San Diegans Living on the Street

At Father Joe’s Villages, our licensed team of healthcare professionals are always on the frontlines, creating and implementing innovative models of care for those living on the streets.

Neighbors experiencing homelessness don’t have easy access to preventative hygiene practices, such as handwashing and sanitation. They also don’t have a safe place to recover if an illness is contracted and live in close and often unsanitary conditions in encampments, canyons, and streets.

Even more critically, our neighbors are at higher risk of negative health effects due to an added layer of health challenges, including compromised immune systems and pre-existing chronic illnesses.

For too many living on San Diego’s streets, poor mental health, addiction, disabilities, and other factors prevent them from seeking medical help. That’s why Father Joe’s Villages’ Street Health Program is crucial for bringing life-saving healthcare to people experiencing homelessness.

Father Joe’s Villages’ Street Health Program

Father Joe’s Villages’ Street Health program provides urgent medical services directly to people living on the streets of San Diego. The first initiative of its kind in San Diego, this program is designed to reach the 30 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness who have complex medical needs but do not seek help themselves.

The Street Health program allows Father Joe’s Villages to build relationships with these patients and connect them with additional resources to help end their homelessness.

“Many of the people we meet are facing major physical and psychological barriers. Going to the doctor may be a simple task for you and me, but it can be a complicated and frustrating process for these patients,” says Dr. Jeffrey Norris, medical director of Father Joe’s Villages. “What makes our Street Health Program different is that we are leveraging our decades of experience with outreach at Father Joe’s Villages to identify the people on the streets who need our help right then and there — without any barrier to receiving life-changing care.”

Building Relationships

The Street Health Program will allow Father Joe’s Villages to build relationships with these patients over time while also addressing their health needs.

A long-term goal of this program is to encourage individuals experiencing homelessness to make it into the Village Health Center regularly and to engage in all the ways Father Joe’s Villages can help them get back on their feet and move off the streets for good.

Behavioral Services and Medical Care

Our Street Health team has integrated behavioral health services in addition to the medical care they deliver directly to people living on the streets. Street Health has expanded the availability of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for substance use disorder and psychiatry services.

In addition to on-the-spot medical care, such as wound cleaning, COVID screening, prescriptions, and more, Street Health providers will connect patients to medication and other resources they need to address mental illness and behavioral health issues

“For those suffering from substance use disorder or mental illness, one of the greatest challenges is that they are often not ready to seek help on their own. By doing outreach to engage with people directly on the streets, we can build rapport and trust with the goal of increasing the patient’s participation in the care they need to get back on their feet,” said Dr. Norris.

The Street Health Program also launched an In-Reach Model of care in partnership with Scripps Mercy Hospital. Through this new In-Reach Model, our Village Health Center providers work with those of Scripps to identify “high-frequency patients” who are caught in a cycle of illness and injury, ambulance rides, and Emergency Room visits, only to be discharged to the streets to start the cycle again.

Under the new In-Reach Model, the care of “high-frequency patients” shifts from emergency rooms to our Street Health and Village Health Center teams, resulting in better care for the individuals and potentially significant reductions in health costs covered by taxpayers.

Street Health During the Pandemic

In 2020, the Street Health team brought critical health information about COVID-19 and on-the-spot screening to people on the streets. When a neighbor was exhibiting flu symptoms, the team was able to connect them to a shelter for safe isolation and provide medical services.

Additionally, the Street Health team brought their services to the Convention Center, which, at the time, was converted to a shelter to move people experiencing homelessness off the streets during the pandemic. Several times a week, the Street Health team provided health care and screenings to residents across the shelter.

The Street Health team also administered hundreds of COVID-19 vaccinations among San Diego’s homeless population, ensuring the safety of those most vulnerable and the safety of the community.