June 9, 2021
It’s a sunny day in Los Angeles, and there is a steady flow of people coming in and out of St. Margaret’s Center. They’re at the community drop-in center to receive all kinds of services designed for people experiencing homelessness and at risk of losing their homes, including free food, adult education classes, public benefit application assistance, immigration processing help and more.
This day happens to be a Monday, which means there’s a mobile shower service on site, as well as Venice Family Clinic’s mobile clinic van providing health care services – including COVID-19 vaccines – to anyone who walks up.
There’s a young man who asks for a COVID-19 test, concerned that his cough might be a symptom of the illness. There’s a middle aged woman having her blood drawn for a check-up. There are a couple of older men getting their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And there’s Ruben Villafana Garcia, who lives on the street in Inglewood.
Ruben has been experiencing homelessness in the area for 10 years. He wakes up every day at 5 a.m. to pick up bottles and cans to exchange for recycling money. Ruben used to work as a day laborer but says he is “too old” to do that now. He comes to St. Margaret’s every week to shower and get food.
On this day, Ruben also visited our mobile clinic van to have his blood work done.
“I have diabetes and haven’t had lab work done in over a year,” he said. “My regular doctor is far, about an hour away by bus, so it’s hard for me to get there. And that office has been closed a lot because of the pandemic.
“I am very happy to see Venice Family Clinic here today,” Ruben said.
Venice Family Clinic has been taking its mobile clinic van to St. Margaret’s Center since December, when we began a new partnership with the Center, which is part of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles. The Center sits in between Inglewood and Lennox, just blocks away from the 405 Freeway and Los Angeles International Airport, and is our first social service community partner in the South Bay. Many of our Children First Early Head Start families at our Hawlawn Family Child Care Center have been using St. Margaret’s Center’s services for years, so this partnership was a natural fit.
Most of the patients we provide health care services to at St. Margaret’s Center are unsheltered people who are experiencing homelessness. These patients have a more difficult time accessing care in traditional settings, whether it’s because of not having a safe place to leave their belongings, lacking documentation or insurance, or not being able to handle waiting in a crowded clinic waiting room.
“Our mobile clinic van helps fill in gaps in care when people have access issues,” said Carrie Kowalski, MPAP, PA-C, who serves as clinical lead for the Venice Family Clinic team that makes weekly visits to St. Margaret’s. “Many of these patients were not getting care anywhere other than an emergency room before they started seeing me regularly at St. Margaret’s. Many of our patients here now stop to check in with us on a regular basis. Some of them need help initiating or refilling psychiatric medications, and we have several patients who see us for medication assisted treatment (MAT) for substance use disorders. They have told me that there is nowhere else for them to go to get these services. We’re creating lasting relationships that help people lead healthier lives.”
For patients like Ruben, seeing our health care staff at a place he frequents meant he could trust our services. He planned to return the following week for his blood work results, as well as get his weekly shower and food.
“Being at St. Margaret’s Center where people are already accessing other services allows us to provide the lowest-barrier care possible. And the van helps us provide more comprehensive care to our patients where they are,” Kowalski said. “I hope that we’re able to forge new relationships with patients and homeless service providers that we would otherwise not be able to reach.”