A local neighborhood council established a new committee in early June to provide medical services to the homeless population in Westwood.
The North Westwood Neighborhood Council created the Community Health and Homelessness Committee at the first meeting of its newly elected board June 10 to broaden the scope of its predecessor, the Homelessness Committee, and address additional issues, such as providing health care to the uninsured.
Ashraf Beshay, council member and head of the CHHC, said the NWWNC created the new homelessness committee to cover a wider range of issues than the original Homelessness Committee. Beshay added he and other council members felt health care and homelessness shared a strong intersection and a committee was necessary to address both issues.
“It is also really to approach health as the political issue that it sometimes turns into in our current climate,” Beshay said.
Michael Skiles, president of the NWWNC, said the CHHC will tackle the same issues the original Homelessness Committee worked to solve and take on the additional responsibility of addressing issues regarding community health.
“People experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to diseases and ailments, and also are among the most common to not have health insurance,” Skiles said. “That community is among the foremost of our priorities for the issue of community health.”
The committee will aim to provide free, basic health care to those who lack access to proper health care because of affordability or immigration status, Beshay said.
“One of my more ambitious goals is to have a free clinic that would operate maybe 20 to 30 hours on a weekly basis,” he said. “The idea is for us to have physicians always available for checkups during those hours so, folks don’t have to think about cost when trying to take care of their health.”
Ieva Vaiciunas, a second-year environmental science student, said the CHHC’s goal was commendable because she believes access to health care is a fundamental right and those who lack health insurance would greatly benefit from such a potential clinic.
“I’ve seen a lot of people wake up fearing for their health or for their family’s health every day, and to have that opportunity to go and receive that care is really important,” Vaiciunas said. “It’s also really nice for physicians to be able to offer that.”
The committee will also focus on advocating for greater mental health facility funding at UCLA and throughout the neighborhood, Beshay said. He added the committee will also maintain existing outreach programs and work with the Westwood Neighborhood Council, which represents areas in Westwood not within the jurisdiction of the NWWNC, to access its network of resources.
“The idea is to address the issue at its roots so that we can be very effective at tackling it,” Beshay said.
The new committee will also retain its predecessor’s support for bridge housing, which provides temporary housing for the homeless and unemployed until they have the resources to find their own housing, Beshay said.
Skiles said the CHHC will provide similar services to the homeless in Westwood as the Homelessness Committee did, including hosting resource fairs and cosponsoring Westwood Connect Day, an event during which community members provided resources such as haircuts and clothing to the homeless population.
The CHHC will also continue efforts to support groups such as the Westwood Village Improvement Association and the UCLA Community Programs Office Food Closest, which provide the homeless community with various resources, Skiles added.
In addition to establishing new resources and strengthening outreach programs, the CHHC aims to work with the Student Health Advisory Committee on campus to spread the word to the community about these new goals, Beshay said.
He added he thinks the CHHC will need to begin creating comprehensive plans and projects to further its cause because of the fact that little progress has been made to address health problems that arise from homelessness, such as vulnerability to substance abuse. The CHHC will rely on the physicians on the council and committee to better understand the health care system and develop plans to reach its goals.
“We have three doctors who serve on our neighborhood council, and those are folks who will likely be serving on our committee and be participating to bring their own connections and resources,” Beshay said.
Beshay said he believes the committee can utilize a network of medical and health resources to better establish opportunities for the homeless and uninsured populations of Westwood to access affordable health care in the coming years.