Medical – The Homeless Times
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Where do the people living in homeless encampments go for health care? They have no insurance, no money. All they have are a few square feet of sidewalk, and a pup tent to sleep in with their meager possessions crammed inside with them.
If they leave for a few hours to go to the emergency room, there’s a good chance those possessions will be gone when they get back. So they stay and protect what little they have.
And, they wait for health care to hopefully come to them.
Members of the Northeast Valley Health Corporation’s street outreach team that provides medical care for people living in homeless encampments. Jeannie Umanzor, a nurse practitioner, is giving a COVID test in the field. (Photo courtesy Northeast Valley Health Corporation)Jeannie Umanzor’s street outreach team gathered outside a health clinic in North Hollywood last Wednesday morning ready to hit the road. It was going to be a busy day.
They had three homeless encampments to visit, medications to deliver to people with substance abuse and mental health challenges, COVID tests and bandages that need changing for people with open wounds living in a nearby wash.
This is the job Umanzor signed up for when she became a nurse practitioner four years ago, and joined the Northeast Valley Health Corporation — 14 health centers in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys working to provide medical care to underserved communities, including the homeless.
Working with her are Fabiola Caballero, a licensed vocational nurse; Ramiro Cabrera, an outreach worker; and Yesenia Cano, a grad student soon to be a family nurse practitioner. They all could have found work in hospitals and medical offices, but instead they chose the streets.
Most people drive by homeless encampments and see an eyesore they want gone. They see human beings at the lowest point of their lives.
“The first time we go to a new encampment they’re kind of standoffish and a little hesitant to engage, but when they find our goal is strictly medical most are receptive to come and talk to us,” said Umanzor, who breaks the ice with snacks and water the team brings with them.
Members of the Northeast Valley Health Corporation’s street outreach team that provides medical care for people living in homeless encampments. Sitting masked on the staircase are Jeannie Umanzor, (top step), a nurse practitioner; Fabiola Caballero, (left on staircase) a licensed vocational nurse, LVN; and Yesenia Cano, (right on staircase) a graduate student training to be a family nurse practitioner. (Photo courtesy Northeast Valley Health Corporation)“They’re scared. A lot of them have had bad experiences trying to get health care and don’t go back to follow up because there’s such a stigma attached to homelessness.”
She tries not to bring her work home with her, but it’s hard when the patients you’ve been caring for all day are spending the night sleeping in cardboard shelters and pup tents under bridges and in washes.
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“I turn my phone off at 7 p.m. and spend downtime with my husband and 2-year-old son,” she said. “At 7 a.m., I turn it back on and go to work.”
Kimberly Wyard, the CEO of Northeast Valley Health Corporation, was a magician’s assistant at Busch Gardens before taking a $3 an hour internship in 1974 to work for a new health care center in the city of San Fernando that had opened a year earlier. It was the brainchild of a group of local civic leaders wanting to provide health care for underserved communities.
In the years since, Wyard has worked her own magic helping expand the operation that now serves the health care needs of 350,000 people a year — from babies to seniors — living in vulnerable populations.
“They would be overwhelming emergency rooms or deferring their health care if we weren’t bringing it to them,” Wyard said. “Our purpose is to keep people out of ERs, and to control chronic illness so it doesn’t become worse.
“Our physicians, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and all our professional staff have chosen to work in underserved communities because they want to give something back. Some of them grew up in these same communities.”
They don’t see eyesores when they drive by homeless encampments, they see human beings at the lowest point in their lives.
People who need to be helped, not stigmatized.
For more information on the great work the Northeast Valley Health Corp. is doing, and its upcoming “Giving Tuesday” fund drive, go online to
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at

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