The St. John-St. Paul Collaborative Service Commission has chosen the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) as the beneficiary of our 2022 Collaborative Lenten Gift. We would like to tell you a little bit about this inspiring organization.
In the United States of America there are almost 600 thousand people estimated to be without a home. In Massachusetts in 2020 the number was estimated at almost 18,000 people. The reasons are multiple – most often poverty combined with another risk factor such as mental illness, illiteracy, substance use, violence, disability.
In July 1985, a small group of 7 professionals led by Dr. James O’Connell banded together to launch dedicated and coordinated clinical services for homeless people. This was the beginning of Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP).
More than just providing medical care to the homeless in Boston, they implemented a broad approach bridging medicine, public health and social services. They connected homeless shelters with health care centers and hospitals via a team that was mobile and worked in multiple settings. They structured a model of care emphasizing primary care, mental health care and substance use services. They did this by building trust, one person at a time. Meeting them on the streets, at night, under bridges and in doorways. Through this extraordinary patience, perseverance, and humility they were accepted.
Now more than 35 years later BHCHP has grown to be the largest and most comprehensive freestanding healthcare for the homeless program in the country. BHCHP pioneered many of the concepts in use today across the country – including respite care – which prevents homeless patients coming out of hospitals from being discharged straight back to the street. They coordinate care between 2 hospitals and more than 65 shelter and street clinics. They deliver preventive care – such as vaccines and cancer screening – as well as urgent care. The initial group of 7 employees has now grown to over 400 and serves over 12,000 homeless men, women and children in Boston each year.
In the last 2 years – the COVID pandemic combined with the opioid crisis and other factors – such as the closing of the bridge to Long Island Shelter – have led to people spilling onto the streets and tent cities popping up all over the country. In Boston we have seen this in the neighborhood known as Mass & Cass, named after the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, which was recently dismantled, with the city promising alternative housing.
For the past 3 years BHCHP devoted 17 full time staff to care for people living in the encampment. The staff from the Harm Reduction and HIV teams have provided wound care, counseling, overdose management, HIV prevention and care, and case management. Likewise they have responded to each wave of the Covid pandemic, providing emergency care, testing and vaccination. In all of these efforts they partner with state and city public health entities.
Next weekend we will share with you some personal stories from life on the streets, stay tuned!
For more information on BHCHP and how you can help please visit our Collaborative Lenten Gift page.
Sources: National Alliance to End Homelessness
Stories from the Shadows, Reflections of a Street Doctor by James J. O’Connell
Boston Healthcare for the Homeless January 2022 Newsletter