Homeless in Charlotte seeking medical respite care after hospital stays

Samaritan House in Charlotte
Samaritan House in Charlotte
Published: Nov. 15, 2018 at 8:41 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - When a homeless person is hospitalized, he or she does not have the luxury of going home afterwards to recuperate. They usually go back to the streets, making recovery difficult and oftentimes landing them back in the hospital.

Right now hospitals in Charlotte refer homeless patients to Samaritan House. It is the only option for medical respite care.

According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council this kind of care is defined as “short-term residential care that allows homeless individuals the opportunity to rest in a safe environment while accessing medical care and other supportive services.”

Anita Warr is one of 12 patients staying at Samaritan House currently. She worked hard to make a living her whole life, until she found her health deteriorating.

“I was only able to work three to four hours a day, so extreme poverty stepped in on that one," Warr said.

She wound up in Charlotte in the back of an ambulance in 2016.

“I found out I had uteran cancer," she said.

She needed a place to go after surgery and the hospital referred her to Samaritan House.

“We’re just plain, old-timey care that a person would give a member of their family," Executive Director of Samaritan House Brad Goforth said.

They opened their doors in 2005 after realizing homeless people in Charlotte had no other options.

“When we first started the hospitals were telling us that over 70% of the homeless men and women were coming back multiple times for the same illness or injury,” Goforth said.

Now they have a warm bed, food and transportation to follow-up appointments.

According to Samaritan House, 70% of their referrals come from Atrium Health and 15% from the Levine Cancer Institute.

“Originally they thought less than 50% were surviving cancer,” Goforth said. “With us last year, 89% had a positive outcome.”

“I’m alive and I can see my grandchildren," Warr said. "Two years ago I saw my oldest grandchild that’s all I would’ve seen.”

Now she can focus on beating the disease.

It is the only place in Charlotte offering medical respite, and one of only two in the state. Asheville is home to a similar program called Haywood Street Respite.

Samaritan House can accommodate 12 guests at a time. Since they opened in 2005, they have served more than 1,500 people.

Counselors working with the homeless at the Urban Ministry Center say the city of Charlotte is in dire need of more of these services.

“70% percent of the people that come here directly discharged from the hospital, we have to send them back because they don’t have any place to go,” Michella Palmer, Director of Counseling Services at Urban Ministry Center, said. “The social workers are trying to send them places but the respite care is limited.”

And it's not just a need here.

According to the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, there are only about 75 respite programs in the entire country. Some states do not have any.

“Part of the reason there is this gap in care is resources,” Julia Dobbins, Project Manager of National Health Care for the Homeless Council, said. “It’s hard to start a new program and there’s not a clear funding source.”

“We don’t take government money,” Goforth said. “We don’t want it at all. We want it to be from the community.”

Their money comes from churches, hospitals, corporate and private donations.

“It’s humbling to know that a place like this exists,” Warr said. “It’s one of the best kept secrets in Charlotte.”

The goal is that when people are discharged from Samaritan House, they leave with more than just their health, but the ability to stay off the streets.

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