- 7 options for Homeless Medical Care in Houston
- 1. How To Apply For The Homeless Gold Card
- 2. Healthcare for the Homeless
- 3. Bristow Center’s PATH Program (mental health program for the homeless in Houston)
- 4. US Veterans Drop-In Center (healthcare for homeless veterans in Houston)
- 5. Lord of the Streets (Houston homeless day center)
- 6. Low Income Houston Clinics that Treat the Homeless
- 7. Getting Treatment at a Hospital
7 options for Homeless Medical Care in Houston
Everyone should have the right to healthcare and the homeless are no different. In this guide I will provide you with 6 options for homeless medical care in Houston.
Below you will find homeless medical resources for the following:
- Instructions on how and where to apply for the homeless Gold Card (1st listing)
- A downtown Houston clinic that specializes in providing medical care for the homeless. This clinic even helps homeless individuals obtain dentures! (2nd listing)
- A program in Midtown that offers psychiatric services and help obtaining a temporary homeless ID (3rd listing)
- Medical care options for Houston veterans dealing PTSD or chronic conditions (4th listing)
- How one Houston homeless shelter offers vision care among other medical services to its patients (5th listing)
- A map of 80+ “sliding scale” clinics that offer treatment to the homeless (6th listing)
- The federal law that gives you the right to emergency treatment at nearly every hospital (7th listing)
Lets start by discussing how the Gold Card clinics provide treatment to the homeless.
1. How To Apply For The Homeless Gold Card
Harris Health (aka Gold Card) provides medical treatment to everyone from the insured, uninsured to even the homeless in Houston.
Editors note: Harris Health System is the agency that manages the Gold Card insurance.
If you are homeless, then you would need to apply for the homeless Gold Card. The difference between this Gold Card as compared to the regular Gold Card is the price you pay for medical care. Typically anyone who is homeless will qualify for Plan Zero. If you qualify for this plan you will pay little to nothing for co-payments and prescriptions.
To apply for the homeless Gold Card you must first obtain a homeless letter. This verifies that you are homeless and eligible for this special type of Gold Card. You can only obtain this letter and qualify for Plan Zero by starting the process at a Houston homeless shelter. Below are some of the shelters that can help you with this process:
Editors Note: Harris Health defines “homeless” as anyone who does not have a physical address.
Houston Gold Card Enrollment Process For Those Who Are Not Homeless
People on the Harris Health discount plans (plans 1 – 4) are required to pay some fees for services. Clinic co-payments can range from $3 for Plan 1 all the way to a maximum of $95 for Plan 4. Keep in mind these prices are estimates and subject to change.
Harris Health System is much more than regular medical clinics. In addition to primary care, Harris Health is comprised of same day clinics, hospitals, geriatric care, dialysis clinics, specialty clinics, and other providers. This makes the Harris Health Gold Card a good option for homeless individuals who need help managing chronic conditions.
To learn more about the enrollment process see our guide titled How To Apply For the Harris Health Gold Card.
2. Healthcare for the Homeless
Healthcare for the Homeless is another local agency which provides homeless medical care in Houston.
This downtown Houston clinic offers the following care to homeless individuals:
- Medical services offered are things like primary care, psychiatry, STD testing, well women’s care, vision assistance, podiatry, pharmacy, and more.
- Dental services for the homeless offered free of charge. The services offered through Healthcare for the Homeless are exams, x-rays, cleanings, periodontal therapy, cancer screenings, extractions, root canals, crowns and bridges, dentures. For more information regarding dental work call HHH at 713.286.6140.
- Transportation is offered in the form of the Project Access Bus. This bus service helps Houston’s homeless population get to shelters, medical appointments, and social service agencies.
- The Health & Whole Program offers help to homeless women who have survived sexual abuse. Help includes health wellness care, health education, trauma-specific care (sexual abuse, PTSD or addiction counseling), Healing through the Arts Program, Peer Support, and Employment Counseling. For more information go here.
- HOMES Clinic or Houston Outreach Medicine Education and Social Services Clinic is a student-run clinic. Medical students from Baylor College, University of Texas, and the University of Houston operate the clinic. The clinic was created due to the demand for homeless health care on Sundays. Prior to the clinic opening, there were no healthcare options (aside from ER) for homeless individuals on Sundays. The clinic is open on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm. The address is 1212 Prairie Street and the phone number is 713.220.9730.
This homeless medical provider is located downtown at 1934 Caroline Street, Houston, TX 77002. For more information visit the Healthcare for the Homeless Houston website or call them at 713.286.6000.
3. Bristow Center’s PATH Program (mental health program for the homeless in Houston)
The PATH Program is a homeless day center for individuals with a mental health diagnosis. PATH is a Harris Center program (formerly MHMRA Harris).
Editors note: Harris Center is the mental health authority in Harris County. They can help you with psychiatric or counseling services no matter your income or a lack of health insurance.
Treating mental health problems are the main focus, however, you can also receive the follow services at the Bristow Center:
- Linkage to outpatient psychiatric services to help with major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and more
- A place to shower and clean up during the day
- Mental health case management services
- Lunch for the homeless in Houston
- Temporary homeless ID card processing
- Psychiatric emergency intervention
It’s important to remember that the PATH Program is open Monday through Friday from 7 am to 4 pm and this is a first-come, first-serve process therefore you should arrive early.
You are encouraged to arrive at PATH around 6:30 am for a better chance of being seen. PATH typically takes 3–5 new clients per day which demonstrates how important it is to arrive early.
The PATH Program is located in Midtown Houston. The closest major intersection is Caroline and McGowen and the address is 2627 Caroline St, Houston, TX 77004. For more information you can call PATH at 713.970.7413 or call the Harris Center main helpline at 713.970.7000 and they will be able to answer any questions.
4. US Veterans Drop-In Center (healthcare for homeless veterans in Houston)
The Veterans Drop-In Center offers basic needs and medical care to homeless Houston veterans.
Services offered to veterans include:
- Housing for homeless veterans
- Supported employment program
- Mental health help for veterans in Houston
- Trauma Recovery + PTSD treatment
- Substance Abuse programs
- Homeless Veteran women program
- Resources for homeless female veterans
- Assistance connecting to the VASH program
- Re-Entry Program for Veterans with a criminal record
This VA homeless program is open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm. It’s located in the heart of downtown Houston, just two blocks down from Minute Maid Park. The address is 1418 Preston Street, Houston, TX 77002. For more information visit the Houston VA website or call them at 713-794-7533.
5. Lord of the Streets (Houston homeless day center)
Lord of the Streets is a homeless day center that offers multiple resources including medical care.
Here is a listing of services offered at Lord of the Streets:
- There is a Harris Health Clinic that is located at this location that offers medical services like doctors, nurses, counselors, podiatrists, dentists, and pharmacists.
- Help applying for Harris Health/Gold Card
- Vision care is provided at the shelter. LOTS has partnered with the University of Houston School of Optometry to offer clients everything from loaner glasses, eye exams, and vouchers for glasses.
- Basic needs like a day shelter, food/water, food stamps, and a valid ID if needed.
- The Clothing and Hygiene Center provides clothes and toiletries to Houston’s homeless population.
- Mail services are provided at the shelter. Clients can use LOTS 3401 Fannin address to receive mail from various government agencies and medical providers.
- Food Assistance is provided in the form of helping clients apply for SNAP benefits. LOTS has a partnership with the Houston Food Bank.
- Other services include homeless letters, help to obtain ID or a birth certificate, free notary services, Project Access Bus tickets, Metro Bus Passes for a verifiable appointment, and also bus tickets for a family crisis.
This shelter is located in the Midtown neighborhood at 3401 Fannin St, Houston, TX 77004. You can call them any day Monday through Friday at 713.526.0311 or visit the Lord of the Streets website for more information.
6. Low Income Houston Clinics that Treat the Homeless
Another set of options regarding care for the homeless are the low cost clinics in Houston. Many refer to these as the “free clinics in Houston”, however, they are not necessarily free and the correct name for these clinics is actually Federally Qualified Health Centers.
FQHCs operate based on something called a “sliding scale”. This means the clinic will look at you monthly income and bill you based on whatever you make…even if its $0. The scale slides up or down based on your income.
Examples of these sliding scale clinics in Houston would be places like:
- Legacy Clinic
- Avenue 360
- El Centro de Corazon
- IBN Sina
- Vecino Health Centers
- And more…
You can find a complete list of these Houston clinics on our guided titled 15 Low Cost Clinics to Treat the Uninsured
7. Getting Treatment at a Hospital
Whether you are homeless, insured or even a legal citizen you can receive emergency treatment at a hospital.
Editors note: The only hospitals that can turn you away are hospitals which do not receive payments from the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. Because most hospitals accept payments from these entities there are not many hospitals that can turn you away.
Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA)
The law that allows you to receive emergency treatment at hospitals is called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act or EMTALA.
The hospital obligations under EMTALA are:
- The hospital must provide you with a medical screening examination if you visit the hospital requesting emergency are. They will screen you to determine whether or not there is a emergency medical conditions (EMC). The hospital must treat you first before inquiring about your ability to pay or whether you are insured.
- Once the hospital has determined that there is a emergency medical condition (EMC) then they must provide treatment until your emergency is either stabilized or resolved. Even if your insurance is cancelled during your stay the hospital cannot discharge you until you are stabilized.
- If a hospital does not have the capability to treat your condition they must transfer you to a more capable hospital.
Do Not Use a Hospital as a Source of Primary Care
Although hospitals cannot turn you away, you should not utilize these places like a primary care clinic especially if your situation is not an emergency. Here are a couple reasons why I say this:
- Visiting the emergency room when you are not in crisis takes away critical resources from the patients who really need it. Imagine if you visited the ER with chest pains, but had to wait behind 5 people who had a common cold. When you are in pain nothing else matters, but the next time you get ready to visit the ER for something that is non-emergent take time to consider if you could be slowing down the screening process of someone else who really needs the help. One way to gauge whether or not your situation is emergent is by calling the Nurse Health Line for free guidance.
- Visiting the hospital for treatment onetime is simply not enough. The truth is you will likely need to follow up with your own primary care doctor a few times. As smart as ER doctors and nurses are they simply cannot solve a chronic condition overnight. There are multiple studies that indicate continuity of care (seeing one provider on a regular basis) leads to improved patient outcomes over time.
Again hospitals will not turn you away for emergent care if you are homeless, however, after you are treated your goal should be finding your own primary care doctor to continue follow up visits with.
It is much easier to avoid getting sick then to cure an illness or chronic disease (diabetes, hypertension, bipolar disorder, etc) once you have it. Regular trips to your own primary care doctor will decrease the liklihood that you will develop a chronic condition.
One of the biggest medical care misconceptions that the homeless (and people in general) have is the belief that emergency rooms can solve their problems. Again the doctors who work there are very smart individuals, but they cannot reverse 5, 10, 15 years of poor health habits. While yes, hospitals will treatment you if you visit the ER, relying on them to for 100% of your medical care and prescriptions refills will eventually lead to serious complications. For this reason it is so important to find your own doctor to help you work through chronic conditions.
As you can see from above there are plenty of options for homeless medical care in Houston. If you are homeless and do not have a doctor take the first step to living a healthier life by scheduling an outpatient appointment to see a doctor today.
Nick Bryant is a Counselor with 11 years of experience working in community health. He enjoys concerts, walks with the doggo and wife, mocking Dallas Cowboy fans, and sharing community resources. Jump on the Houston Case Managers email list to receive weekly community resource guides delivered directly to your inbox.