Kim and Jim Coleman

New health clinic provides free services to Memphis' homeless

By Published: April 14, 2019 7:20 AM CT

Like many cities, Memphis has a sizable homeless population. Now, two health-care providers have banded together to open a free clinic to treat medical conditions and mental illnesses among people in this vulnerable group.

Baptist Memorial Health Care and Christ Community Health Services opened the Baptist Operation Outreach clinic March 1, in the Midtown neighborhood of Madison Heights, home to a large portion of Memphis' homeless population.

“It’s a facility where they can sit and wait, more like a doctor’s office," said Tamara Hendrix, organizing coordinator for H.O.P.E. (Homeless Organized for Power and Equality), a support and advocacy group of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. "It’s also very accessible to those people that are homeless right now because most of the services are concentrated in that area,” she said of Madison Heights.

The Baptist Operation Outreach clinic operates inside the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee facility at 1325 Jefferson Avenue. Services include immunizations, behavioral health services and treatment for diseases and minor injuries. The clinic is also stocked with basic medications.

In 2004, Baptist Memorial Health Care and Christ Community Health Services launched a mobile clinic that travels across the city with a health-care provider who delivers free services similar to those at the new brick-and-mortar clinic.

“We are coming into the clinic location here to complement the free health-care services that we are already offering through the mobile van,” said Jan Taylor, program director for Baptist Operation Outreach, which is staffed daily with a health-care provider and a nurse practitioner.

Follow-up appointments will be available at both the Jefferson Avenue site and the mobile clinic, which will remain in service at the parking lot of Catholic Charities on Mondays and Fridays, when the clinic is closed. Clinic hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The mobile van will continue to serve other parts of the city: Memphis Union Mission, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Poplar, and the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Reentry on Mississippi Boulevard. Taylor said plans are to expand the sites for the mobile van to visit.

“One of our first partnerships will be First Baptist at Broad," she said. Other potential sites are the Hickory Hill and Whitehaven neighborhoods.

Dana Brooks, director of housing ministries for Catholic Charities, estimates that there are 1,226 people in Memphis and Shelby County who are currently homeless. The concentration of homeless people in Madison Heights is mostly due to services available in the area. In addition to Catholic Charities of West Tennessee, Manna House Memphis and St. Vincent de Paul Food Mission operate in the neighborhood and along its main artery of Cleveland Street.

“There are soup kitchens, clothes closets, places to get food vouchers and shelters concentrated in the area,” Hendrix said. Manna House offers donations such as clothing, hygiene items, showers and coffee to its clients. The food mission is a soup kitchen that also provides social services.

While homelessness can seem an intractable problem, the numbers have fallen since the high watermark of 2012, according to Brooks. “As a city, we have reduced chronic homelessness by about 67 percent and veteran homelessness by 42 percent. Family homelessness is down 50 percent, while unsheltered homelessness is down 69 percent,” Brooks said.

Part of that decrease is attributed to the Continuum of Care initiative, which Memphis-based Community Alliance for the Homeless initiated in 2012. It links together 27 service providers. All clients are accepted in the same way under a coordinated entry program and referred to relevant service providers.  The Baptist Operation Outreach clinic is a member of the Continuum of Care as are the other service providers in the Madison Heights neighborhood.

Once a person is determined to be homeless, a case manager makes a vulnerability impact assessment, identifying disabilities, mental illness, income, length of homelessness and previous use of crisis services. Those individuals are then prioritized by need.

“Coordinated entry tries to bridge the gap from shelter to home or unit; we want the shelter to be a trampoline,” Brooks said.

Memphis and Shelby County do not have any free or public shelters. All shelters come with a fee, which drives the homeless to panhandle or keeps them on the street. H.O.P.E is readying a campaign to see if any money in the county budget could be allocated toward a public shelter.

“We would really like a city-run free shelter," Hendrix said. "It’s been proposed but we’ve been told so many times that we don’t have the money in the budget.”

Memphis has three main shelters with about 800 beds available. The average fee is $13 a day. “By the time you have been there a month you are basically paying rent. It is expensive, especially for one with zero income,” Brooks said.

Placement in an apartment unit or home is the top priority for those connected to the Continuum of Care. With permanent supportive housing projects, the tenant receives an indefinite amount of financial assistance and wraparound case management. According to Brooks, there are about 1,380 permanent supportive housing beds in Memphis.

Catholic Charities uses another method called rapid re-housing, which is temporary assistance during a six- to nine-month period. “It is six to nine months of financial assistance and case management and then the case management continues for another six months after the financial assistance stops,” Brooks said.

Catholic Charities has a yearly capacity of 765 beds for rapid re-housing. Catholic Charities' services for the homeless population are grant-based and are partially funded through the City of Memphis and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Over 80 percent of Catholic Charities clients have no income. After they are settled, their case management begins. In rapid re-housing, Catholic Charities leases apartments or homes in the client’s name. The client receives assistance with startup fees as well as supplies to make their new home livable. These usually come from Catholic Charities' clothes pantry at its Madison Heights site. Set up like a store, it is also stocked with donated household items.

“The homeless need stability and services,” Hendrix said. “One fellow, we had to teach to wash his clothes because he had never washed his clothes before. So (it’s) working out the things they don’t know and getting them that help and not judging them for it.”

Memphis’ HUD programs have a 91 percent retention rate, meaning few units become available. To transition from temporary housing to market-rate housing, clients need to have sustainable income. Yet, many homeless people suffer with a disability that limits their earning potential. Lack of a driver’s license can derail an employment opportunity. Mental illness is a common obstacle.

“The connection between the job opportunity and the applicant is still really difficult," Brooks said.



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