In a second video of a series of Facebook live streams by City Councilor Michelle Wu, the councilor spoke with Dr. Denise De Las Nueces, Medical Director at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, to disperse more information about what is being done to help the homeless population during the global pandemic of COVID-19, or coronavirus.
Boston Health Care for the Homeless is a “federally qualified community health center that has been in existence for more than 30 years, De Las Nueces said during the live stream, which happened at noon on March 17. She said the program’s main purpose is to “provide the highest-quality care equitably for all homeless individuals and families in Boston.” With its main headquarters on the South End/Roxbury border, the program provides primary and urgent care to homeless individuals and families, as well as specialty services, such as dentistry.
“We have really been incredibly, incredibly thoughtful over the past few weeks around our response to COVID-19,” De Las Nueces said, “because we recognize based on our work and for the past decades with our population that individuals experiencing homelessness are at really increased risk in general but also in terms of exposure to and complications of infectious diseases. ”Boston Health Care for the Homeless officials have been working “nonstop” for the past few weeks to shift the focus of services to COVID-19 prevention and response.
“I will say, to date, there have not been any cases of COVID-19 among residents experiencing homelessness here in Boston,” De Las Nueces said. “Despite that though, we recognize that if there were to be a case, that the repercussions for this population would be really significant.”
She said that since homeless individuals do not have homes to stay put in, they are at risk of more easily spreading it.
De Las Nueces said that steps Health Care for the Homeless are taking include: promoting social distancing in the population, not only at the health center but at shelter partners as well. They are also stripping down services to only those most crucial, and having less primary-care appointments and more urgent-care appointments in order to get people the essentials they need. De Las Nueces also said that limiting exposure of people coming to and from the health center and shelters is important.
Additionally. De Las Nueces said that the program is increasing telemedicine capacity as there are some instances where support services can still be provided remotely.
She said she advised the homeless community on preventative measures, including hand washing more than might be thought necessary and using hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable, not sharing utensils or cigarettes, and practicing good cough etiquette.
She said if someone feels like they may have some of the symptoms of coronavirus, they should call the 24/7 hotline number at 781-221-6565 if they are a Health Care for the Homeless patient.
She also recommended that if people have a shelter to go to, they should stay there. If they are out on the street, there are clinics at all the city shelters where people can go in and be seen.
“The city and state have been working nonstop to identify spaces for isolation and quarantine for homeless individuals,” De Las Nueces said.
Boston Health Care for the Homeless is one of many organizations in the city that is projected to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. It’s losses like these that are “deeply impactful” on services that thousands of people rely on.
De Las Nueces said what they need most is unrestricted donations to the program so they can continue to be able to provide these services. Those interested in donating can find more information on the Boston Health Care for the Homeless website. Additionally, she said they could use a donation of technology like tablets for people to use for entertainment, as often times they don’t have the means to provide televisions or tablets for their patients.
Councilor Wu asked De Las Nueces about whether or not there would be increased access to hand-washing and showers during this time. “Access to hand-washing and showers has always been an issue, unfortunately,” De Las Nueces said, adding that she doesn’t necessarily see an increase in the availability of these things at the moment.
Additionally, Councilor Wu asked what the impact will be on the ability to get treatment for patients struggling with substance abuse. De Las Nueces said that “we are working with the city and state on identifying spaces…how to better meet the needs of individuals and meet their needs from a substance abuse perspective.”
Right now, the program is keeping the needs of all homeless individuals who are exposed to or may contract COVID-19 at the forefront.
Councilor Wu said her takeaways from the conversation were for folks to wash their hands with soap if they have access to soap and water, for people to not share utensils or cigarettes, for people to keep a distance from others, and if they feel sick, to call the hotline at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless.