The National Health Care for the Homeless Council’s Organizational Member Healthcare for the Homeless – Houston (HHH) became the city’s third Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in 2001 and is the only private FQHC that exclusively provides care for people experiencing homelessness in Houston, TX. HHH serves the city’s most vulnerable by providing comprehensive, integrated primary and behavioral health care and case management services in three clinics throughout the city and on-site in multiple permanent supportive housing facilities. HHH has consistently striven to meet this formidable challenge with a combination of consumer involvement, strong leadership, and an unwavering commitment to the health, hope, and dignity of those they serve.
Harnessing Council Relationships and Consumer Voices
HHH has tapped into the networking opportunities and multiple resources offered by the National HCH Council for over a decade. Frances Isbell, CEO of HHH and NHCHC President-elect, places a high value on collaborative relationships: “The ability to 1.) learn from each other, and 2.) have a collective voice, I think, has benefited us as an individual center but also collectively in terms of providing care to this population.” Carlie Brown, HHH Executive Vice President agrees, “It’s a fantastic resource and it really breaks down those silos across the nation of all the HCH providers, and we’re able to share programming and best practices.”
These best practices include incorporating the voices of consumers at every level. An engaged Consumer Advisory Board is engrained into the culture of HHH. In fact, the organization’s CHANGE Committee was the catalyst for one of HHH’s longest running programs, Project Access. The city’s only free transportation service for people experiencing homelessness, the 40-passenger bus travels a Monday-Friday route to and from supportive service organizations. Project Access came about due to the strong consumer voices of then-CHANGE Committee Chair Joseph Benson and other consumers who knew that transportation was a huge barrier to accessing care.
Furthering HCH Amongst Geographic Challenges
Also important to the values of HHH is ensuring the future of HCH work evidenced through the services of the student-run HOMES clinic. Carlie Brown elaborates, “One of the things that is really important to us is this underlying mission of fostering the next generation. There is a huge shortage of primary care physicians in general and then on top of that, a huge shortage of health care workers that work with indigent care. It’s really this commitment to providing some exposure to this integrated type of care to hopefully perpetuate the number of providers that go into this line of work.” The shelter-based primary care clinic is open every Sunday and has provided medical care to over 4,000 of Houston’s citizens without homes since 1999.
There are some distinctive challenges to providing care to Houston’s homeless population, one of which is geography. As Brown puts it, “Harris County is the size of Connecticut, and being the only stand-alone homeless-specific FQHC is geographically challenging.” And it’s not only the size of HHH’s service area, but it’s also the unpredictable weather. Having experienced the mass devastation from Hurricane Harvey that beset the county in August 2017, Frances Isbell knows this all too well. She states, “I helped establish HHH almost 20 years ago, and we’ve had probably six natural disasters since I’ve been here, so we’re pretty prone to either flooding or hurricane. And so that’s certainly a challenge.”
No matter the climate, HHH perseveres in its critical work to provide care and services for people without homes in Houston. The National HCH Council looks forward to continuing to provide its Organizational Members with fruitful networking opportunities, resources, education, and tools to make ending homelessness a reality in Texas, and throughout the country.
Learn more about Healthcare for the Homeless – Houston and Organizational Membership with the National HCH Council.