More than 25 years ago, pediatrician Irwin Redlener, M.D., and his friend, singer/songwriter Paul Simon paid a visit to New York City homeless shelters and were deeply troubled by the sight of families struggling in crowded, dirty facilities. The visit inspired them to come up with an innovative solution – a mobile medical program that would go to where families in need were so they could received quality care regardless of their circumstances in life. Founded in 1987, the New York Children’s Health Project, was the first program in what would eventually become Children’s Health Fund’s national network of programs.
Today, Children’s Health Fund’s original program brings comprehensive medical care to over 4,000 children and family members through more than 20,000 health care visits each year. Its mobile medical and dental teams visit several family homeless and domestic violence shelters in four New York City boroughs. On days when mobile clinics do not stop at a particular shelter, families can always visit the program’s fixed-site Deerfield Child and Family Health Clinic in the South Bronx. The program also runs small clinics in shelters.
The homeless population’s needs have never been greater. In 2013, city shelters surpassed all-time occupancy records with over 50,000 individuals seeking refuge on a given night – more than 22,000 of them children.
Living in the chaotic immediacy of homelessness, health care can slip through the cracks. Shelters are often far from families’ original neighborhoods and previous health care providers. Many homeless families lack regular access to transportation and are often caught up in the desperate need to find work and permanent shelter.
The New York Children’s Health Project cuts through this tumult and provides ready access to quality comprehensive medical, mental health and oral health services. It also provides emergency food packages and runs hands-on nutrition, exercise and microwave cooking classes. These enriching activities help children and adults experiencing homelessness not only cope with their circumstances but also gain skills that will help them stay healthier in good times and bad.
The New York Children’s Health Project’s compassionate team of professionals has helped turn chaos and despair into renewed hope for many families.
As one mother gratefully commented, “This program has pumped life back into me. The people who work here made me say to myself, ‘Hello, Gloria, wake up. Welcome back to the world. You’re going to be all right.’”