I was waiting for a shuttle, outside a busy shopping center in San Francisco. As a person with Parkinson’s disease who is conscious about being alert, and on her toes at all times, I felt especially vulnerable in the hustle of a risky neighborhood.
My location offered me a front-row-seat for watching a kaleidoscope of theater stories. A homeless couple dragged their feet up the incline of the San Francisco sidewalk against the wind, obviously stressed, and exhausted. At the crest of the hill they pulled out signs asking for help from their backpacks.
Next to the homeless couple, fire fighters out for a grocery run pulled aside to care for a pedestrian with a bad ankle. Across the street, a tent pitched on the sidewalk feebly resisted being blown away by the strong wind. I reminded myself that at least there were no fist fights like the one I witnessed during my last visit.
Thoughts of the homeless couple lingered with me. Imagine the worry of being on guard 24/7 in constant fear about safety. The combination of no rest, lack of healthy food and no clean water must rapidly affect a person’s health.
What would I do if I were homeless with Parkinson’s? How quickly would my Parkinson’s accelerate from my poor lifestyle?
As if touched by divine intervention, a message on my phone tweeted that Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente will invest $200 million in the coming years in programs to grow affordable housing and mitigate homelessness in Bay Area cities and other locations where the health system operates.
In “Kaiser will put $200 million toward affordable housing, homelessness” San Francisco Chronicle writer Kimberly Veklerov quoted Bechara Choucair, a physician and Kaiser’s chief community health officer.
“The quality of where and how we live, work, learn and play has a big impact on our health,” Choucair said. “There’s no question that housing stability and health are totally connected.”
Veklerov quoted Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson “We fully comprehend now what total health means for our members and the communities in which we exist,” he said. “We’re not just here for health care, we’re also here for healthy communities.”
Hopefully, the homeless couple I saw today will benefit from Kaiser Community Health’s announcement. With the security of a home, health can improve, and relationships can strengthen.
Communities can become centers of healing for everyone, including the homeless, healthy, or those with chronic illness such as Parkinson’s disease. Well done, Kaiser Permanente on taking a positive step forward!