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Obstacles to Access: Tent City

By Amber Bellazaire, WithinReach Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, AmeriCorps
The AmeriCorps team at WithinReach recently began a new outreach effort at Tent City 3, a homeless encampment temporarily located across the street from Seattle Pacific University. On a chilly evening, a few members of the team arrived, prepared to help residents connect with food and health resources. While assisting these clients, our conversations turned to some of the other challenges they faced in accessing health care and nutrition benefits.

Several residents of Tent City 3 shared that they were in need of dental care, but were having difficulty finding a dentist that would take their Apple Health insurance. We were able to use the WithinReach Resource Finder to pull up a list of providers for these clients to use; however, lack of regular internet and phone access makes finding accessible dental and health care an ongoing struggle.

Similarly, a woman enrolled in Washington Apple Health and Basic Food told us that she was unable to access her benefits because she had recently been a victim of theft. This is an issue that disproportionately affects the homeless, who often don’t have a secure place to store their belongings. Her cell phone and wallet were stolen while she was sleeping, leaving her without personal identification cards, insurance cards, Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, or a way to connect and replace these items. In this situation, simply contacting the various agencies in order to request replacement cards was a great challenge and a barrier limiting this woman’s access to health services and food.

Also that night, a 23-year-old woman we worked with was having difficulty accessing the prescription she needed to treat her bronchitis. People experiencing homelessness tend to be more susceptible to chronic illnesses, such as bronchitis, than those with stable housing. Without regular access to a mailbox, this young woman had not received her insurance card and had been denied prescriptions from her pharmacy, even though she has active coverage. We were able to offer suggestions about locations where she could receive mail in the future, and provided her with the phone numbers she needed to replace her insurance card.

Although the AmeriCorps team was able to offer short-term solutions to these clients so that they could access health and food resources, barriers to access, remain in place for the homeless population. These client interactions reminded me that simply signing a person up for benefits is often not enough; working around or removing barriers such as the lack of a mailbox or regular phone access is necessary for successfully connecting homeless clients. As we continue our outreach work with homeless communities, it is important to remember these common issues and try our best to work around them so that all of our clients can have access to health and food resources, no matter what their living situation is.

Need Shelter? Find Tent City sites here: http://www.sharewheel.org/Home/tent-cities

 

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