A private health-care agency serving the poor in the East San Fernando Valley will share a $1.9-million federal grant to provide medical and mental-health assistance to thousands of homeless people, officials announced Tuesday.
The $590,000 grant to the Northeast Valley Health Corp. will finance a "mobile health clinic," said Lou Garcia, executive director of the private nonprofit organization. The mobile clinic will operate out of the Valley Shelter in North Hollywood, which serves the homeless.
"For the first time we are going to reach out to the homeless with medical care by going where they are," Garcia said. "We will go to shelters, to the parks, underneath bridges to find them and offer medical care."
Local social service groups estimate that there are as many as 10,000 homeless people in the Valley. The money, Garcia said, will enable health-care professionals to reach about 3,000 of them.
Although doctors and nurses staffing the mobile clinic will spend most of their time treating the homeless at the Valley Shelter, they also plan to go each day to other social service agencies and sites where the homeless gather to offer free medical care.
The Northeast Valley Health Corp., which runs clinics in Pacoima and San Fernando, also was selected as the lead organization to distribute the remaining $1.4 million to six other nonprofit health-care agencies in Los Angeles County. Of the agencies, the Watts Health Care Foundation received $600,000, the biggest grant.
The seven organizations applied for the grant as a health-care coalition, Garcia said. He said one goal of the coalition is to develop a countywide system for referring homeless people to programs that treat substance abuse and mental-health problems.
The other five organizations, in Venice, East Los Angeles and the Skid Row and central city areas, each received $101,000 to $200,000 to expand existing health-care outreach programs for the homeless.
The federal grant was awarded under the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which was approved by Congress this year. The act provides $50 million nationally for health care, substance-abuse treatment and mental-health services for the homeless.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City), who helped push the legislation through Congress, said the Los Angeles coalition received one of the largest shares of money for health care in the country.
"While the money is still a small amount compared to the need, it will go a long way to serving the most needy people," Berman said. "There has been attention with respect to food, clothing and shelters for the homeless, but another big part of the problem deals with their lack of health care. Here is a grant that addresses that problem."
Garcia said the mobile clinic will begin operating in a month and will be staffed by a general practitioner, a pediatrician, a nurse practitioner and a social service worker.
The traveling doctors and nurses will handle such basic health-care needs as immunizations, obstetrical care and the prescribing of drugs for minor ailments, Garcia said. People suffering more serious ailments will be referred to the health corporation's Pacoima and San Fernando clinics, which are equipped with laboratories and more sophisticated diagnostic tools, he said.
The Watts Health Care Foundation will run a similar program in South Los Angeles, and officials said they expect to treat about 5,000 homeless there in 1988.
"Homeless people don't look like most other people and for the most part are ostracized if they walk into a doctor's office," said Dr. Clyde Oden, executive director of the Watts Health Care Foundation. "These programs are designed to break down those barriers to health care."