Op-ed: The homeless need medical care too

Posted at 10:00 AM, Aug 06, 2016

Dr. Bob Donovan is a Catholic Marianist Brother and the physician at the Center for Respite Care. 

I am a long-time Cincinnatian. I have lived in our city through our many transitions. While our city has prospered, we continue to confront challenges as the number of homeless adults creates new and more difficult problems.

I am a physician and a Catholic Marianist brother -- my calling is to hear from people without a voice and to care for people without care. I work with organizations that have treated individuals experiencing homelessness for decades, among them is the Center for Respite Care.

As our community proposes solutions to poverty, it’s important that we listen to the voices of those who don’t have either the resources or platforms to be heard. These are the people whom I call patients and neighbors.

My primary work is in caring for individuals experiencing homelessness when they become very ill.

Safe, Healing Environment

When our homeless become ill, they confront a harrowing proposition. When they receive hospital care, they are often released without a place to call home. People without a home never properly heal. The Center provides a safe, healing environment. Many of these individuals have been homeless for years. We take them to a better place and offer medical treatment, re-attach them to friends and family, and work extremely hard to move them to a point of better health and social stability.

My workday presents me with men, women, former business executives, parents and our veterans. Most never expected to find themselves in my care.

These are people like you and me. They were living their lives, working and raising children. Along the way, their own circumstances changed. They lost jobs, lost support systems and their health. Their stories are sad. While they are part of the large numbers called “homeless,” to us they are our friends, family members, coworkers, siblings and parents.

Understand People as Individuals

Our job is to understand the factors that have contributed to their homelessness. There is no one answer or solution. These people experience their own human conditions with diverse paths that have lead them to me. While there are steps that can be taken to improve overall homeless statistics – a primary objective must be understanding and caring for people as individuals.

It has been 28 years since I embarked on this profession and since that time have sadly seen negligible reduction in the homeless population. Two decades ago, we thought that we could “solve these challenges.” When one becomes aware of the factors that create homeless individuals, we learn that these are complicated struggles.

These are also struggles that can occur for anyone and everyone. We often confront both mental and physical health challenges. We see individuals who would not have expected to find themselves with us. Our goal is to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness become healthy and remain healthy. And can then care for themselves and can get back to work, their friends and family.

Long-term Commitment Needed

We applaud the current work to study and recommend improvements to regional poverty. We know that poverty impacts our population in equal measure. At one time, I naively thought we would “solve the challenge” in five years. What I know now is that improvement in poverty requires long-term commitment, deep understanding, one-on-one caring and a community-wide support system. This takes all of us, together.

I ask that the current poverty study join with the Center for Respite Care in provision and coordination of medical care for the adult homeless population.

Simply put, with the hard work set forth on childhood poverty and organizations like the Center, we collectively provide a continuum of service.

Together, we are a healthier and more productive Cincinnati.