The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has received a federal grant of $440,000 to provide free health care to Juneau's homeless people.
The grant, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was awarded last week, said Ken Brewer, SEARHC president and CEO.
"We've known this was a need for a long, long time," Brewer said. "But we haven't been able to identify any resources to address it. Working with the people from Health and Human Services, we were able to identify that their new granting opportunities might focus on this type of issue."
SEARHC provides free health care to Alaska Natives. Under the DHHS grant, a new clinic will serve Juneau's homeless people of any race. The homeless population is estimated at more than 300 people, SEARHC said.
Lance Young, executive director for the Glory Hole, a downtown homeless shelter and dining hall, said it had served 24,239 meals this year as of Aug. 1. At that point, 3,876 bed spaces had been used by men and 334 by women; the numbers include repeat visitors.
"We get so many people coming through here all the time, all year long," Young said. "You never know who's going to need (health care). And it's not just the homeless, it's the low-income people downtown. If they have someplace they can go that's not going to cost them an arm and a leg, it would be a great help to them."
Money from the grant will be used to operate a clinic out of rented space near the Glory Hole, with renovations possibly completed as early as this fall, SEARHC officials said. No location has been set yet.
Services will include primary care, which encompasses basic health treatments such as immunization, treatment for mental health and substance abuse, and dentistry.
Local agencies that work with homeless people said the new service would help address a pressing need.
"We often see the adult population between 21 and 65 who don't qualify for certain federal programs, nor have insurance, where there is a need for things like oral health care, support for mental health services," said Kathy Miller, nurse manager for the state's Juneau Public Health Center.
In the past, the public health center has provided flu shots to Glory Hole residents and helped members of Juneau's needy population determine their health-care resources, Miller said.
"There often is a gap for people who do require medical diagnostics and ongoing treatments ... that have not had a steady source for that," she said.
At the Glory Hole, the No. 1 health issue Young sees is dental trouble, he said.
"A lot of them don't want to smile because their teeth look like hell ..." Young said. "And if your teeth ache all the time, there goes the attitude. I know quite a few people downtown that are homeless that have dental needs real bad."
Charles Davidson, 32, knows firsthand how hard it is to be homeless and hurting. Last November, Davidson was playing pick-up basketball when he stubbed his toe on a friend's foot.
"It normally sounds like a small item," Davidson said. "In this case, it was fractured, so it was a bloody mess and it was swollen up to twice its size."
As an Alaska Native, Davidson is eligible for SEARHC's free health care. But he injured his toe on a holiday, and the clinic was closed, he said. A friend drove him to the emergency room at Bartlett Regional Hospital, where he was treated and released.
His $400 bill was rerouted several times in the mail, and by the time it reached him, he'd missed SEARHC's deadline to appeal for help in making the payment, Davidson said.
"I'm grateful that my foot is OK, because I can play basketball and I can go running," said Davidson, who works full time at the Glory Hole. "But I'm going to have to pay it off in (installments)."
He'll happily use the new clinic, Davidson said.
"I will in particular if it's located more conveniently than SEARHC is located right now," he said. SEARHC's clinic is near the hospital.
SEARHC "is easy to get to, but if it's downtown, that'd be a huge bonus."
Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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