Health Care for the Homeless National Conference in New OrleansBy Paula Lomazzi
The National Health Care for the Homeless held its annual conference in New Orleans this year from May 27 through May 30th. I have been a member of our local Health Care for the Homeless Advisory Committee (recently transitioned to a Co-Applicant Board) in Sacramento since when I was homeless in the early 2000s, so I am considered a consumer member. Being a consumer member of the National group qualified
Sukari.jpg
NCAB members from Los Angeles (Bruce and my mentor, Sukari) in the French Quarter.
me for a scholarship to attend the conference.


Marriotts welcomed me into its well appointed abode on Tuesday evening, where insomnia gripped me from the excitement of being in a strange and exciting new city at a conference where I know Id make new acquaintances and learn I did not know what.

There is a special dynamic to health care for people experiencing homelessness. People experiencing homelessness die an average of 30 years earlier than housed individuals, and experience illness and injury three to six times more. That leaves the inevitable conclusion that housing is a prerequisite to ensuring good health outcomes. Housing is Health Care is the mantra I heard over and over throughout the conference, which was reinforced by the National Health Care for the Homeless mission of ending homelessness through, first and foremost, the provision of housing. I heard in the conference that you cant end homelessness by ending homelessnessso its also necessary to address the systemic causes of homelessness, such as poverty creation through bad policies, income inequity, and the defunding and devaluing of safety net programs, nationally and locally.

Of course, the main focus of the conference was health care for homeless people. There was much discussion about the changes that the Affordable Care Act has brought to people experiencing homelessness throughout our nation. Though there are reports of transitioning homeless patients to Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) hitting some rough spots, the road ahead is clear and hopeful for the previously uninsured multitudes. There are 27 States, including DC, that are implementing Medicaid expansion for 2014, with three states still debating the subject, leaving 21 states not seeming to welcome this Federal funding source. Though some of these states opting out of "Obama Care" are accessing other revenue sources to somewhat fill the gap, for the most part these States are choosing to leave many of our nations homeless population uninsured and untreated until that patient is forced through illness crisis to access the
emergency room at an exorbitant and preventable cost to their communities.
rally.jpg
Medicaid Expansion Rally at Duncan Plaza


The National Health Care for the Homeless Council is greatly supportive of the Affordable Care Act, but they still continue to advocate for the Universal Health Care concept in a single payer system, which would allow the insured to access the health care providers of their choice.

Though New Orleans Mayor Landrieu spoke of his support for the Medicaid reform, Louisiana is one of those states that have not adopted the Affordable Care Act expansion. Thursday after all the days workshops, attendees gathered in the hotel lobby for a march through town ending in a spirited rally at Duncan plaza to extol the importance of LA getting on board with the ACA! We all got stuck in a torrential rain storm but the rally location just so happened to have the protection of a crowd-sized gazebo.

Though a great majority of the workshops offered over the three days were designed more for the further education of health practitioners and other service providers, there were too many great sessions left for me to easily select which ones to attend. I had to take a class about Consumer Advisory Boards so I could take that information back to my Sacramento group. Next, Rumors of the Decline of Homelessness are Greatly Exaggerated shared a great history of homelessness, talked about the homeless counts and warned that we shouldnt celebrate reduced numbers as much as be outraged at the current number of homeless people. I attended the National
exersize.jpg
Rumors of the Decline of Homelessness Are Greatly Exaggerated workshop - audience participation exercise.
Consumer Advocacy Board meeting (a scholarship requirement and an honor) to vote for representatives and guidelines through consensus, and then we barely made it to the big jazz mixer on the top floor that evening. Thursday morning I took a twitter class to brush up on my skills and strategies. Then a workshop on Civil Rights, presented by Houston
s Joseph Beason, and Sacramentos own Bob Erlenbusch, about the criminalization of homelessness and Homeless Bills of Rights. The next workshop I attended, Homelessness, Racism and Social Justice, uncovered the deliberate government policies of redlining and other structural racism, and the disproportional amount of people of color in the homeless population, in prisons, and excluded from economic prosperity. Friday morning I went to the workshop on Speakers Bureaus, presented by formerly homeless advocates. The last workshop on Friday was about advocacy campaigns that included some great models to emulate.

I was enriched by the many workshops, events, sightseeing (only did a little), delicious meals!, but was most appreciative of what we were referring to as the Choir (as in Preaching to the Choir). It was a hopeful experience to meet and hear from so many people from across our country that understand the importance of not only health care for homeless people, but also all the other kinds of dignified treatment and respect all humans should be able to expect.

P1030825.JPG
Caitlin Margaret May, master of Cantastoria, an artform of telling stories with pictures. Caitlin, with song, theatrics and props, told of the history of homelessness and the big pickle we're in.