Hearing the Voice of those Who Wish to be Heard

By: Maria Holmes, BA, INHC, CHW, Community Healthcare Coach

We may pass by and see them with signs on the street or at the intersection as we wait for the traffic light to change. Do we turn our heads and look down? Do we judge? Or maybe we give a little, wondering if that was enough. Seeing the homeless can be very uncomfortable, yet the alarming fact is that many Americans are one paycheck away from losing so much. Compounding being without a home, imagine also having a chronic disease and needing to be regularly seen by a healthcare provider, but being unable to afford transportation, medications, or co-pays.

Lacking a home is not easy. Nobody wants to be homeless and the feeling of being shunned for their situation can be difficult. Although an option, shelters are often overcrowded, and months – or years-long – wait lists for housing make sleeping on the streets, under bridges, or couch surfing an all-too-common solution for those without shelter. Over 2,930 people are experiencing homelessness in Connecticut and over 15,507 in Massachusetts. So, what can we do?

SoNE HEALTH Community Health Workers are healthcare professionals certified in assisting individuals experiencing Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) challenges. SDOH is defined as the personal, social, economic, and environmental factors that influence our health.  Using communication styles that include rapport building and active listening, we learn much about patients as they open up, just wanting to be heard.

An example of active listening that comes to mind is of a patient who was homeless and living in a vehicle. The patient wasn’t comfortable going to their primary care provider’s office for an assessment. As Community Health Workers at SoNE, we acknowledged the patient’s feelings and arranged for a telehealth visit. We further learned the patient was not able to obtain medication for their Graves Disease.  The patient gave the Community Health Worker permission to outreach community organizations to coordinate assistance with completing the Medicaid application for lower-cost medications and co-pays, and with completing applications for housing. Eventually, a local one-room rental was secured at a cost the patient could afford. The various support offered helped to improve the patient’s mental state. The patient began keeping medical appointments as well as rebuilding relationships with family.

SoNE HEALTH Community Health Workers see and don’t look away. We strive to listen and to give voice to the homeless and others who just wish to be heard.