Venice Family Clinic expands outreach to homeless

VENICE — The Venice Family Clinic has expanded the outreach of its homeless health care services during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide testing and medical care for unsheltered patients living on the streets, in a newly established shelter and at Project Roomkey sites.

The clinic, a leader in providing street medicine with nine health care teams dedicated to serving people living on the streets, has extended its care to people living in a shelter the city of Los Angeles established in Westchester in response to the pandemic.

The clinic’s health care professionals also are providing COVID-19 testing for unsheltered individuals at the clinic, as well as collaborating with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services to do COVID-19 testing in homeless encampments and congregate living sites on the Westside.

In addition, the clinic’s staff is providing care at three hotels and motels in Venice, Century City and Lawndale that are part of Project Roomkey, a program that seeks to slow the spread of COVID-19 by providing temporary housing in hotels and motels for vulnerable people experiencing homelessness.

“We have expanded the outreach of homeless health care services as the state, county and city of Los Angeles have expanded housing options for unsheltered people to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Evonne Biggs, Venice Family Clinic’s program manager for homeless services and health equity. “Getting unsheltered people into a stable environment where they can receive health care and be enrolled in health insurance means increased opportunities to improve their health.”

Venice Family Clinic’s Director of Homeless Services, Dr. Coley King, said the high death rate among people experiencing homelessness underscores the importance of getting them access to housing and comprehensive medical care.

“People experiencing homelessness die almost 30 years younger than the rest of us,” he said. “We may live to the age of 80, but they may barely make it to 50. That is probably the worst part of my job.

“I know at least 25 people experiencing homelessness who died last year, and at least six more who have died this year from causes other than COVID-19. Housing is health care and, without it, unsheltered people are more likely to develop chronic and often fatal conditions at a far earlier age than people who have a home.”

The 2020 Los Angeles County Homeless Count, a point-in-time measure that was completed in January, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, recently reported that there were 66,433 people in Los Angeles County experiencing homelessness, a 12.7% rise from last year’s count. The city of Los Angeles saw a 14.2% rise to 41,290. The survey found that Los Angeles’ westside, where Venice Family Clinic provides health care at 12 locations, is home to 6,009 individuals experiencing homelessness.

“Getting unsheltered patients into stable housing can make an enormous difference in their mental and physical health,” King said. “Funding that was made available because of the COVID-19 pandemic has helped secure some of the housing they need, and we have been able to help get their medical situations stabilized once they are off the streets.

“But there are still far too many people living on the streets and in ill health. There is much more work that needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable among us, especially in times like these.”

Venice Family Clinic, a nonprofit community health center that serves nearly 28,000 people in need across Los Angeles, is a leader in providing comprehensive, high-quality primary health care to people living in poverty.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the clinic has grown from a small storefront operation into one of Los Angeles’ leading community health centers, through 12 sites in Venice, Santa Monica, Mar Vista, Inglewood and Culver City.

Wave Staff Report