Huffpost Impact
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Joel John Roberts Headshot

Doctors Want to Prescribe Social Services as Good Medicine

Posted: Updated:

I work a few office spaces away from a waiting room filled to the brim with people who are so impoverished they have resorted to living on the streets. Those of us on the front lines battling homelessness in America know that the so-called American social safety net is tattered.

An incredulous gasp is my only response when a presidential candidate, worth a quarter of a billion dollars, publicly states on national television that this country has a "very ample safety net" for poor Americans.

Sure, our country provides Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers to help Americans fight poverty. But these resources are not enough. Just walk in our waiting room every weekday and the numbers of people you see clamoring for help will dispel the myth of an "ample safety net."

Or, talk with America's physicians regarding what they see. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently commissioned a national survey of primary care providers and pediatricians that resulted in an unusual conclusion by America's doctors.

If they could, they would write a prescription to help Americans' social needs -- food, housing, fitness, and transportation assistance.

In fact, four out of five physicians felt that meeting the social needs of a person is just as important as meeting their medical conditions. Of those care providers in low-income communities, nine out of 10 felt the same.

The link between meeting social needs and good health is so strong that three of four doctors believe that the health care system in this country should pay to help patients meet their social needs.

Imagine the HMO's of this country paying to support homeless agencies, food banks, and affordable housing developers. Ironically, in these medical care organizations, their physicians whose primary goals are to help patients get healthy promote such an endeavor.

It just makes sense. Antibiotics and drug treatment are not the only avenues on the road back to health. Sometimes our doctors simply tell us to stay home and rest in the comfort of our beds, and to drink plenty of fluids and a healthy bowl of chicken soup.

But for more and more Americans the access to a secure home and nutritious food is just a fleeting hope.

Last week, I received a telephone call from a friend whom I've known for years as a hardworking single mother of three children. She told me that she lost her job and was recently evicted from an apartment building that had been foreclosed. She and her children were now living in a motel, and her savings was dwindling rapidly.

Her predicament is contrary to a presidential candidate's wrongfully perceived assessment of a sufficient social safety net. Her fear now is how to keep her children fed and housed. And she desperately hopes they will stay healthy.

In these difficult economic times, the chicken soup for this country's soul is a safety net that meets both social needs and healthcare conditions.

Around the Web

Homelessness in America: Statistics and Prevention Programs

State of Homelessness in America 2011 - National Alliance to End ...

National Coalition for the Homeless

Facts and Figures: The Homeless . NOW on PBS

Reagan's Legacy: Homelessness in America