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Will Los Angeles expand ‘street medicine’ plan that gives care to the homeless?

The Los Angeles City Council is slated to receive a report on Tuesday, May 8, calling for the appropriation of funding, staffing and other resources to expand the city’s Street Medicine teams and services at all city-funded interim housing.

Councilwoman Nithya Raman introduced a motion in early April seeking to invest in the city’s Street Medicine services. According to the motion, the city has already made a sizable investment in Street Medicine, expanding it in February from one to three teams that serve Council Districts 1,4,8,9, 13 and 14.

The city’s Street Medicine teams provide services such as general medical care, preventive care, wound care; behavioral health services such as counseling, therapy and medication treatment; addiction recovery services; and medical care management by coordinating specialist visits, medication delivery and health insurance enrollment.

According to Raman’s motion, there is an urgent need to provide more on-site Street Medicine services at interim shelters, many of which are not equipped with the staff or resources to provide necessary services for unhoused Angelenos.

“Recent surveys and studies indicate that 40% to 67% of homeless Angelenos have either a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder, while over 20% have a physical disability,” the motion reads.

In November 2022, the state Department of Health Services released guidance encouraging Medi-Cal insurers to fund and partner with organizations that bring primary care into encampments. The city was able to cover a large portion of Street Medicine-related costs by billing Medi-Cal.

Healthcare in Action, a Street Medicine provider, estimates that adequate health services at interim housing sites would require half-day clinics once per week for 50 people, and half-day clinics twice per week at interim housing for 100 people.

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According to Healthcare in Action, the annual cost for each weekly half-day clinic is approximately $24,000. Raman’s motion indicated there remains $4 million unspent and unallocated in a general city purposes fund that could be used to expand the Street Medicine program.

“We should take action now to ensure that these funds are spent on the badly needed, life-saving services provided by Street Medicine teams, and that these teams are able to continue seeing clients that they serve on the street after they transition indoors,” the motion reads.

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