Homeless and very low-income women residing in Los Angeles' Skid Row experience vast gaps in access to healthcare and have an excess of health issues. Health is something neglected by this population as they focus on the daily struggle of getting basic needs met, such as food, shelter, and safety.
These chronic health problems are key factors in individuals remaining homeless. In a recent needs assessment of women in Skid Row, 54% of women rated their health as poor or fair, with many experiencing long-term medical health issues including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and aging related issues. The County of Los Angeles estimates that the Skid Row area has the 3rd highest rate of poor mental health among women. Individuals who are homeless have a life expectancy that is 25-30 years shorter than the general population.
The Downtown Women's Center (DWC), the only resource in Los Angeles exclusively dedicated to addressing the needs of homeless and low-income women in Skid Row since 1978, believes that access to quality and consistent healthcare is critical for homeless women to re-gain their personal stability.
In 2010, DWC collaborated with JWCH Institute, Skid Row Housing Trust, and Lamp Community to launch a comprehensive program to address co-occurring health and mental health problems among homeless and low-income individuals in downtown Los Angeles. Funded by the Office of Minority Health, DWC's role was to specifically focus on the unique needs of homeless women.
DWC created On the Move, a program that provides linkage to benefits and a medical home, nutrition counseling, physical fitness options that include yoga, walking groups, and movement workshops, individualized plans to address such serious health concerns as diabetes and obesity, and mental health treatment. The program was designed to be an engaging activity based program that delivers crucial health information.
A membership card was created so that On the Move "members" receive special incentives based on their participation. In addition to being a motivational tool, membership allows data to be collected and tracked regularly.
The women are making huge strides to better their health. They are adopting healthy practices even as they struggle to meet their basic needs. Approximately 600 women have participated in the program in various ways since its conception and 200 women have received benefits linkage allowing them to access a central health home rather than utilizing emergency services.
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