‘All is Not Lost’

City’s homeless transform their lives through Baptist project

By Michael Waddell

Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. has been nationally recognized for its work providing health care services for the homeless population of the Mid-South, helping people like Grace Hilton-Young transform their lives.

Janice Taylor, clinical director of the Baptist Operation Outreach, questions a patient at the recent Project Homeless event at Memphis Cook Convention Center. More than 120 patients were seen. 

(Photo: Greg Campbell/Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.)

Hilton-Young is a Baptist Operation Outreach employee and former patient of the program. She had been homeless since childhood and was caught in a human trafficking ring with drug addiction, but she now works as a patient advocate for women in recovery.

Baptist was recently named to the top 10 nationally at the 2013 Hospital Charitable Service Awards, where the hospital received a $10,000 grant for its outreach efforts. More than 190 health care organizations from across the U.S. were eligible for the Hospital Charitable Service awards, and 10 awards of $10,000 were handed out.

The accolades come on the heels of Baptist’s third annual Project Homeless Connect event at the Cook Convention Center last month that featured more than 800 volunteers offering assistance to the area’s homeless, with many helpful resources and services to combat homelessness provided under one roof at one time.

“This year’s Project Homeless Connect was a big success. We’ve partnered with the Community Alliance for the Homeless on the event since the beginning,” said Cynthia Allen, community relations and outreach manager for Baptist Memorial Health Care. “The face of the homeless is changing, and it’s our job year-round to help those living on our streets become healthier and find permanent housing. Giving primary care to the homeless is our signature cause at Baptist.”

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell announced that homelessness is down 13 percent, marking the first decrease in at least five years.

Volunteers were able to take more than 1,000 interviews for permanent housing, including for 85 veterans. Medical services included more than 200 eye screenings, 162 medical assessments, 50 prescriptions, and three ER transports, and attendees also received haircuts, legal guidance and assistance with social security issues.

Project sponsors included the city of Memphis, Shelby County, FedEx, Baptist Operation Outreach, Southern College of Optometry, Buckman International, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC, the United Way of the Mid-South and Holiday Ham.

The Baptist Operation Outreach mobile clinic for the homeless is a partnership between Baptist and Christ Community Health Center that is open four days a week on Cleveland Street and sees an average of 3,000 patients a year. On March 27, the van will begin treating women and children every other Wednesday afternoon at the Salvation Army location on Jackson Avenue.

Hilton-Young met Jan Taylor, Baptist Operation Outreach executive director, in 2007 when she was a patient in treatment for alcohol and drugs.

“She acted as a life coach and a mentor,” Hilton-Young said. “Over the years she made sure that I got all that I needed to not just recover from the alcohol and the drugs. She encouraged me to return to school. I started working with women in recovery, and she saw something in me and told me how good she thought I could be at it. I respect and love her, and I will be forever grateful.”

Hilton-Young began school but quickly discovered she could not see well enough and needed glasses.

“They provided me with a special kind of bifocal lens that I needed. They literally took care of every health issue I had, from female physicals, mammograms, the whole nine yards. They were a true life-saver for me,” said a tearful Hilton-Young.

Now she works to help others, using wisdom she gained from years of being in their shoes.

“We as an organization would like to be able to do more than just provide medical services. We want to help move people to the next phase of their lives, to help them on a wider scale,” said Hilton-Young, who married in April 2011 and is now finishing up her college degree in psychology.

Her goal is to plant some seeds of hope and put some light into some dark situations.

“I let them know that all is not lost,” she said.

Taylor points out the need for more women’s shelters in the city, as women often have more physical problems than men and are more often running from domestic abuse situations.

“There are many more men’s shelters that are available in the city than women’s,” said Taylor, who pointed out that at least two domestic shelters had closed down recently. “I have a very, very hard time trying to find housing and shelters for women in Shelby County.”

Baptist now looks forward to June, when it plans to debut a new and expanded mobile facility.