During the pandemic, a time of wary uncertainty, we all wondered where we could go for a COVID test or vaccine or any other medical services. But what about those without a stable home, job, or income? Where can those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco get medical resources?
Experiencing homelessness is stressful, as the constant questions of where the next meal will come from or what will serve as a bed loom overhead. Given all those worries and more, medicine and other health care services can be ignored or forgotten. However, this should not be the case becauses people experiencing homelessness have higher rates of acute and chronic illnesses and a life expectancy that is on average shorter than the housed population.
With that established, where can individuals who are homeless find medical services?
San Francisco Department of Public Health Homeless Services (SFDPH) administers several special projects and contracts with community organizations to deliver a variety of services to the homeless population. Some of the notable projects they are working on include; Homeless Death Prevention, Winter Shelter, COR Outreach Services, Community Housing Partnership, and Episcopal Community Services. As for services, there is a drop-in/same-day clinic, a drop-in nurse clinic, a primary care clinic, and the Tom Waddell Health Center.
The Tom Waddell Health Center has two locations: primary care, located in the Tenderloin on Golden Gate Avenue, and urgent care, by Civic Center on Ivy St. The Health Center specializes in multidisciplinary services to respond to a wide range of medical, psychological, and social needs presented by clients who are homeless. At the center, clinical teams organize themselves around a specialty focus, such as substance abuse, women’s services, or mental health.
In addition to the services provided at the Tom Waddell Health Center, Health Care for the Homeless offers medical, podiatry, mental health, and social services around San Francisco as part of an outreach program.
San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium (SFCCC) also runs a San Francisco Health Care for the Homeless (SFHCH) program. The SFHCH ensures that individuals experiencing homelessness have access to primary care and other health care and support services through a citywide care system.
As a part of the SFHCH, the SFCCC also runs Street Outreach Services (SOS) program, a mobile medical clinic for San Franciscans experiencing homelessness. SOS seeks those who have long been disconnected from the healthcare system, provides on-the-spot urgent care and connects patients to ongoing primary care to ensure that chronic conditions can be managed effectively.
As a van program, SOS succeeds by going directly to individuals who are homeless and creating a trusting relationship in order to connect them to the health care services they need and deserve. Every year, over 1,000 people experiencing homelessness receive care through the SOS program.
University of California San Francisco provides another great resource in the Shelter Clinic, located in the SoMA district on 5th and Bryant. UCSF has partnered with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to provide health care to people staying at the Multi-Service Center South homeless shelter, Northern California’s largest shelter for those experiencing homelessness.
The services provided at the Shelter Clinic include general care, dermatology, ophthalmology, pharmacy, women’s health and support, and men’s support. In addition to their service mission, the Shelter Clinic dedicates itself to educating new and other healthcare providers about the medical needs of individuals who are homeless. As homelessness is an acute and prominent issue in San Francisco, healthcare providers require robust training to provide high-level care to the homeless population.
Ultimately, while there are some options for individuals experiencing homelessness in regards to health services around the City, there must continue to be an emphasis on addressing the health disparities between the housed and the unhoused. Everybody deserves access to medical care, no matter their housing status.