The Boston Health Care for Homeless Program (BHCHP) is the hub, or main connector, for the services that provide extensive care to many of the homeless people on the street corners of Boston.
From medical, dental, therapeutic, and general health necessities, the BHCHP has been helping homeless men, women and children since opening in 1985.
Instead of providing these services through people employed by the program, BHCHP creates partnerships with local organizations in order to establish its services.
“We serve as primary care physicians and others are secondary. We’re built into the fabric of other hospitals,” said Administrative Assistant at the BHCHP, Julie Bogdanski.
The BHCHP makes a point to partner with licensed physicians, doctors, orthodontists, and therapists. The reason? Those at the Jean Yawkey Place believe that all homeless people deserve to have paid professionals provide the same high quality healthcare on the street as others do in conventional healthcare settings.
“Care comes first, it doesn’t matter where you come from or if you have insurance, if you have paperwork or documents, we’ll take care of you. After the fact, we’ll have a benefits coordinator sit down with you to help get you insurance and ID,” said Bogdanski.
Currently, there are over 60 healthcare clinics located in Boston dedicated to making healthcare accessible for the homeless, according to BHCHP.
Dr. James J. O’Connell, author of the book Stories from the Shadows, is the president of BHCHP and has treated patients for decades. In more recent years, Dr. O’Connell and his staff said the organization has advanced greatly in tailoring the program to the shifting world around them.
“We’ve had to learn how to try to keep taking care of homeless people in a changing healthcare system and financially structural world,” said Dr. O’Connell.
With this change comes the addition of housing homeless people. The state provides these housing units for them in order to give the opportunity to live comfortably in a home, however, this comes with it’s challenges.
“New place, new problems: that’s the thing where they put people in places, sometimes way far out, and people seem to lose their way because they get out there and they don’t know anybody,” added patient and Board of Director member at the BHCHP Larry Adams.
The loneliness and depression that can follow this transition into housing can become difficult for the homeless to handle. Because of this, the Center of Change was created.
“[This] program was made just to say ‘look, I’ve been there,’” said Adams.
As the BHCHP continues to battle the everlasting struggle of homelessness plaguing the Boston area, it has implemented precautions to increase patient safety within the shelters.
One such precaution is a reverse motion detector that sets off an alarm in a patient’s bathroom after two minutes if there is no motion detected.
This is to alarm staff to check on patients who may be struggling with drug addiction.
“[The BHCHP] has an average of five overdoses in the building everyday,” said O’Connell.
Another method BHCHP uses is SPOT, which stands for Supportive Place for Observation and Treatment.
“We created an area where we bring [homeless people] in and put them into cardiac chairs and monitor their blood pressure and gauge their pulses,” said O’Connell.
This outlet for the homeless has sparked controversy around the area as many residents tend to view it as a safe injection site, which is illegal.
However, Dr. O’Connell said that it is a misconception that the BHCHP provides clean injection equipment to the homeless. What it really does is give those who are dangerously intoxicated or high a place to be supervised by medical personnel.
“We advocate a lot for it because we think it’s probably better that, if you’re going to shoot, you shoot somewhere where somebody’s going to catch you when you die.”
To the BHCHP, the wellbeing of the homeless people is what matters. The care it provides will continuously improve the lives of them for the better as some even stay to give back.
Being a part of the Board of Directors at BHCHP, Adams commented, “It’s like a drug, the more I helped people, the more it made me want to do it.”
His life has been stable now for the past 33 years that he’s served on the board.
“They wouldn’t give up on me.”