CommUnityCare Health Centers Working to Change the Lives of Patients Experiencing Homelessness 

It’s Friday morning, Monick Hamlin is trailed down the hall at Southeast Health and Wellness Clinic by her colleagues Dr. Mike Stefanowicz and Esther Verges. All three load up the CommUnityCare Street Medicine van with their work gear, medical supplies, and other basic essentials to start their day helping those experiencing homelessness in Austin.  

“The van is our office and clinic, all in one,” joked Hamlin, a Medical Assistant and Community Health Worker for the CommUnityCare Street Medicine Team. 

The first stop is a parking lot in downtown Austin, where the team encounters an older gentleman experiencing a new cough and shoulder pain. This is only the first of many stops throughout the day to help anyone facing barriers and unable to access healthcare at one of the 28 CommUnityCare Health Centers across Travis and Williamson County.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people experiencing homelessness often face higher rates of poor health outcomes than people with housing.

“You and I are very capable of driving our cars, going to our appointments, picking up our prescriptions because we have the capabilities to do that. Our friends and neighbors out here on the streets don’t have that luxury. So, what we have been able to do is meet our patients where they are at,” added Hamlin. “For those living on the street, it’s an everyday struggle. It’s a struggle from addiction, mental health and lack of support. Anywhere we can fill the gaps is what we try to do.” 

In 2022, CommUnityCare Health Centers served 2,920 homeless patients, that is according to the Health Center Program Uniform Data System (UDS) Data Overview. Preliminary UDS data shows CommUnityCare Health Centers exponentially increased that number serving a total number of 4,765 homeless patients in 2023. 

The CommUnityCare Street Medicine Team is just one of the teams that make up the Health Care for the Homeless continuum of care service line. The Street Medicine Team provides primary health care services to unsheltered people experiencing homelessness, wherever they are. The team visits areas across North, East, Central and South Austin throughout the week to provide services. 

Across downtown Austin, the CommUnityCare Mobile Health team has set up a healthcare base at Sunrise Community Church located along Menchaca Road. The CommUnityCare Mobile Health Team offers health care services in on-site community locations for individuals who are or have experienced homelessness. This is done in partnership with community-based organizations by setting up a temporary clinic in their location. 

“I think the regularity of Sunrise and CommUnityCare together has been what has made this work. Them [patients] knowing there is going to be someone, having the assurance that someone is going to be here is what works. When you work in homeless services predictability and regularity is one of the most important things you can bring to the table,” said Mark Hilbelink, Sunrise Community Church Homeless Navigation Center Executive Director. “In the chaotic life of someone experiencing homelessness, it creates a stable foundation for them to start working on some of things they need to work on.”

Sitting in the pews of Sunrise Community Church and waiting to see his CommUnityCare healthcare provider is Roy Miller an Austin unsheltered resident, and a patient at CommUnityCare Health Centers who is experiencing homelessness. 

“Every day I look up and think, alright, I’m going to be okay. Whereas at one point I thought, I guess this is where it ends,” said Miller. “These services have blessed me beyond belief.” 

Miller describes an easy life growing up, born into a wealthy Texas family, living out his dream of being a rodeo cowboy for 20 years, going to school for theatre, and the stability of a trust fund.  

“I’m no longer trust fund Roy,” he says. “I would use [drugs], go to treatment centers and I did this for years. Until one day, I became homeless, and I didn’t know what to do. I’m slowly working my way out of this.” 

“Healthcare is a human right,” said Regina Evidente, Nurse Practitioner for the CommUnityCare Mobile Health Team. “We want to be able to provide them with a space where they feel safe and not judged. I tell patients all the time we’re here to support them in however that looks for them.” 

Also, part of the healthcare for the homeless services are the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) Clinic, the Care Connections Clinic, and the mobile, medical, and mental health (M3) team.  

The ARCH Clinic provides primary medical care to people experiencing homelessness. CommUnityCare services are located inside the ARCH Shelter. The CommUnityCare Care Connections Clinic is where patients experiencing homelessness are encouraged to access services directly at this site without a referral.