This year, Antonio will turn 21 on Christmas and there are more things to celebrate than his coming-of-age birthday. In many respects, he’s achieved what young adults dream of: he lives independently, pays his own rent, and has several jobs. But to get here, Antonio had to overcome incredible obstacles.
When he turned 18, Antonio became homeless. After a violent argument with his mother, Antonio was forced to leave his home. With nowhere to turn, he got on a public bus and asked the driver to take him to a safe place. It was the beginning of a journey in which Antonio met people and organizations that changed the course of his life.
That bus driver took him to the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth–a safe house for youth who have nowhere to stay in Las Vegas. While living there, he received mental health therapy, learned skills to get a job, manage money, and stay focused. This is when he also met Nurse Practitioner Pam Girgis, of the Nevada Health Centers (NVHC) mobile clinic who partners with the shelter to provide pediatric health services.
Like all of the programs that Children’s Health Fund (CHF) supports, NVHC provides high-quality healthcare regardless of patients’ ability to pay. That is exactly the predicament Antonio found himself in last year as he managed a life-threatening health condition. And it’s a barrier to healthcare for many. “Nearly 70 percent of the youth patients who are homeless don’t have health insurance,” said Rosa Alfaro, manager for Mobile Medical Services at the NVHC.
Antonio also has type 1 diabetes, and needs to take insulin to manage his blood sugar levels. The effects of type 1 diabetes can be very dangerous if insulin is too high or too low, and can cause kidney disease, nerve damage, and even death. Managing emergencies alone without a home or consistent access to care, as Antonio did, is extremely scary and dangerous.
At the time he came to the clinic, he was sharing his insulin with other youth who needed insulin for their diabetes but didn’t have the means to secure it. Essentially, he was risking his health to help others. “I can’t imagine seeing anybody go through a hard time, anybody stressing out and not knowing that they have support,” he says.
The type of people Antonio has leaned on to make it out of homelessness is fundamental to his progress. “A lot of times you would have a doctor come in and they would be a little snobbish and have an attitude, but Pam was really respectful. She was really caring.” For young people who are homeless, this is so important as they constantly face judgment, leading them to mistrust institutions and their staff.
In fact, building trust is essential to Pam’s work with youth on the streets. One way she and her colleagues are able to do this is by providing survival supplies. “If they don’t have food to eat…they’re not going to make it anywhere they’re supposed to go, even if it’s the mobile clinic that’s literally parked two feet away.”
These supplies draw patients to the mobile clinic, giving both the medical team and the youth an opportunity to get to know each other. “A lot of the kids are scared at first to say that they need anything,” says Pam, and these trust-building conversations encourage them to get check-ups and seek help with health needs.
Traditionally, the mobile clinic gives out bags with water bottles, hygiene supplies, food, and more. But during this pandemic, the needs of people who are homeless greatly increased, and more of everything is needed. Access to public places where youth could refill water bottles, wash, and secure food was limited. And being homeless increased their risk of contracting the coronavirus.
During this pandemic, Children’s Health Fund deepened its support with a grant for Pam’s team to expand the survival supplies they provide to kids like Antonio.
With CHF funding, the mobile clinic team asked the youth what they needed to stay safe and healthy during the pandemic and bought more things like water, masks, hand sanitizer, food, gift cards, and clothing. They have customized backpacks with these items for hundreds of youth based on their needs.
Antonio’s journey during the last three years has had a lasting impact not just on his own life but on the lives of those around him. He became an ambassador working to help others like him transition out of shelters to prevent returning to the streets. He’s even participated in advocacy efforts in Congress, fighting against laws that penalize people who are homeless. For the mobile clinic team, he is an ally, bringing in other kids. And with the medical team’s help, his diabetes is under control, “He’s come a long way. Before he was in and out of the hospital constantly, and I honestly worried about him dying,” says Pam.
Be the life-changing support hundreds of youth who are homeless need during this tough holiday season.