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Mobile Health

Healthcare for people without an address—or a place to stow their medicines

Dr. Thomas Huggett’s patients face hypertension, asthma, diabetes, mental health issues, and more: the dangers of exposure in wintry Chicago, the ravages of addiction, and even difficulties protecting their medications from thieves. “If you have to carry your meds around all the time—that’s an issue,” he says. Huggett’s patients are homeless.

To reach and treat them, Huggett and his team from Lawndale Christian Health Center bring primary care to 11 homeless shelters via a mobile clinic that is supported in part by the McGowan Fund.

In 2016, nearly 80,400 people were homeless in Chicago, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. In the Lawndale neighborhood, where just 35 percent of adults are employed, homelessness is widespread. The causes are myriad. Job loss, inadequate funds, family disputes, and domestic abuse are common triggers, but there are others, including post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health issues, and physical disabilities. Whatever the trigger, homelessness undermines health, and bad health undermines chances of stabilizing—getting a job, accessing human services tucked in corners across the community, and finding affordable housing. “Housing is healthcare,” says Huggett, who serves as director of LCHC’s mobile health program. “Housing is a treatment.”

Especially when housing becomes available, Huggett’s patients find new ways to survive and thrive. One such patient has been with Huggett since 1996. Once homeless, he now sees Huggett in a brick-and-mortar clinic, one of six run by LCHC, each offering a range of services, including dental and vision care, prenatal care, and children’s health services.

“He’s doing great now,” Huggett says of his long-time patient. “His hepatitis C is cured and his HIV is totally stable. I keep telling him, ‘HIV is not going to kill you. It’ll be your smoking that does it.’” Huggett attended his patient’s wedding a few years ago. “We’re growing old together,” he laughs.

Getting to know people as they make changes in their lives is a privilege, adds the doctor. “That’s the selfish thing we providers get from this work.”

This 2018 grant: $30,000