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Health Outreach Offers Support to Spanish Speakers Experiencing Homelessness

Pilsen-min The Health Outreach Bus in Pilsen, a Chicago neighborhood where The Night Ministry serves many clients for whom Spanish is the primary language.

The sounds of Spanish are often heard along the routes of the Health Outreach Bus and the Street Medicine Team, The Night Ministry's Health Outreach programs that bring free health care and other essential resources into communities across Chicago.

"Staff are out speaking Spanish with people every day," said Stephan Koruba, Senior Nurse Practitioner.

Twice a week the Bus visits set locations in Pilsen and Humboldt Park, neighborhoods well-known for sizeable Spanish-speaking populations. Little Village, Douglass Park, and Albany Park are also on Street Medicine's agenda, and in these neighborhoods staff regularly encounter Spanish speakers.

"Language barriers are a big factor in people accessing services, whether they are houseless or not," shared Noam Greene, Lead Street Medicine Outreach Worker.

Several staff and volunteers speak the language, which helps to mitigate this concern. Levels of fluency vary, so a translation service is available which provides a real-life translator on the phone in a matter of minutes.

The Bus and Street Medicine programs endeavor to link clients to a wider net of services, from further health care to financial assistance and housing. But that can be difficult with some Spanish-speaking immigrants served by Health Outreach.

"Some of our clients are undocumented. Getting an ID or social services for them, for example, can be challenging," said Greene.

There are particularly significant obstacles when it comes to setting them up with more specialized health care. Because undocumented individuals are frequently ineligible for Medicaid or similar programs, staff offer to connect them to clinics that will serve them. But with regular changes to the rules around immigration, many immigrant clients are hesitant to seek further care elsewhere out of fear it will jeopardize their immigration status or, if they are undocumented, alert immigration officials to their presence.

"Many of these clients see us as their main source of primary care because they know they can trust us to keep their information confidential, even the fact that they are a patient of ours. For the most part, these clients are pretty reluctant to ask for anything other than what we offer," said Mirella Rodriguez, Outreach and Health Ministry Lead Case Manager. 

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