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Homeless Kids Need Best Care, Doctor Khaw Tells Council


Dr. Khaw (center) addresses the committee.

Left homeless by Superstorm Sandy, a Queens mom and three kids are moved to temporary housing in the Bronx. They lose access to the health services they knew and used. Not surprisingly, their health goes into decline.

The two older children run out of asthma medication. They have no safe place to play, so they’re gaining weight at an unhealthy rate. Meanwhile, the infant falls off a bed while under the care of a family friend, breaking both legs. The mom is struggling to find a doctor with the right background to treat the child.

That’s just one story about one family – but it’s typical of what Dr. A.J. Khaw calls the “tremendous needs, complex lives, and major health conditions” of New York City’s homeless families.

“We must ensure that all homeless children have access to the best possible health and mental health services,” Dr. Khaw, the medical director of our mobile health program for New York City's homeless families, told members of the City Council at a hearing about family shelters on Thursday.

Khaw noted that many of the children he serves have asthma or asthma-like symptoms. More than a third of the tweens and teens are obese. Others struggle with mental health issues. Low-quality housing and lack of access to health care only magnify those problems.

Children’s Health Fund was founded to bring health care homeless kids in 1987, after Dr. Irwin Redlener and singer/songwriter Paul Simon toured a dangerous and decrepit welfare hotel. Today, our fleet of mobile medical and dental units in New York City serves nine family shelters in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

Unfortunately, run-down buildings remain a problem for homeless families in New York. The city has come under harsh scrutiny in the wake of December’s New York Times series, “Invisible Child.” The stories drew a detailed portrait of 11-year-old Dasani, a girl living in a filthy shelter amid mold, mice and cockroaches.

Last week Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced the city would remove families with children from that shelter – Brooklyn’s Auburn Family Residence – as well as the Catherine Street shelter in Manhattan.

That’s a good start, but much remains to be done. As Khaw noted, “the real prescription is preventing and ending homelessness, period.” He applauded Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s proposed 2015 budget, which would restore funding previously cut from homeless services.

The number of homeless children in the city is at an all-time high of 22,000. The mayor has called the rising levels of homelessness “unacceptable to the future of New York City” and vowed not to let kids like Dasani down. We look forward to working with him to make that promise a reality.

Read more about the hearing in the New York Times.