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Napa homeless get aid from OLE Health: Nonprofit marks national health center week

From the Napa News Now: Check out the stories Napa County residents are talking about this week series

Carrying water jugs and tote bags filled with personal care items, a group of OLE Health staffers assembled Monday morning at the top of a ridge that surrounds a south Napa homeless camp called the Bowl.

The employees made 50 care bags and gathered 100 gallons of water as part of a series of efforts to mark National Health Center Week.

National Health Center Week (Aug. 8 to 14) "is an annual celebration with the goal of raising awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s health centers over the past five decades," said a news release. OLE Health started the week with outreach to the homeless at the Bowl.

Some 15 to 30 Napans live at the Bowl, which is found between the OLE Health campus and the Napa River. OLE Health staffers and Bowl residents share the same parking lot.

“We’re the only Federally Qualified Health Center in Napa, and we’re proud to support the community and do what we can for this vulnerable population,” said Tami Holzman, OLE Health director of communications. The medical campus is located at 300 Hartle Court.

“We want to make sure we connect with at least 50 people, whether they live here in the Bowl or not,” said Guadalupe Villaseñor, community outreach specialist at OLE Health.

“We need to reach out,” to this vulnerable population. “If we have to go to every tent, we will do that.”

Yes, it’s only one bag, “but it will help,” Villaseñor said.

Some of Napa's most vulnerable residents recently received care bags and water from OLE Health. The distribution was hosted in part to mark National Health Center Week. The Bowl homeless camp is located in south Napa.

Pushing an orange Home Depot shopping cart through the parking lot, Tony Rodgers happily accepted a care bag and two bottles of water. The bag includes items such as socks, deodorant, soap, hand sanitizer and face masks.

“Hey, thank you guys,” said Rodgers.

Homeless for more than 10 years, said Rodgers, he recently moved back to Napa from Oregon.

“I think it’s amazing,” he said of the bag of supplies and water. “I’m grateful,” said Rodgers.

He said tries to see each day as a blessing but at the same time, “It’s heartbreaking,” that he’s homeless, said Rodgers, who is 47. “I’m losing hope, slowly,” he admitted. “It makes me want to cry.”

Rodgers said he’s not staying at the Bowl. Instead, he keeps everything he owns in the shopping cart. His sleeping bag and a folding chair is stashed on the bottom of the cart and hats and a water bottle are attached to the sides of the cart. He sleeps in different places, always moving around, said Rodgers.

He’s familiar with OLE Health, the man said. He’s been inside the facility and takes medications. “I have serious health issues,” but, “I smoke like a chimney and drink like a fish,” he said with a smile.

Tony Marshall, who said he is homeless, was sitting outside the OLE Health campus on Monday morning. “That’s cool,” said Marshall, about the free care bag. “I don’t keep much,” he said, but he would accept the supplies. “It’d be rude not to take it,” he said quietly.

Lynette Leighton, MD, medical director for the OLE Health’s south Napa campus, joined the group passing out bags inside the Bowl.

“I believe health care is a right,” said Leighton. “There are a lot of people out here struggling,” said the physician. “Any relief we can provide is important.”

Additionally, “many of these people out here are patients at our clinic and we are personally connected to them. It’s hard to watch them struggle.”

According to the center, just under 3% of OLE Health patients are homeless.

As the group of OLE staffers walked inside the Bowl, they called out at every tent or dwelling. But only a few voices replied or accepted a bag.

When asked if she felt discouraged that many tents were either unoccupied or those inside did not respond, Leighton explained that “it’s a good example of how hard it is,” to connect with vulnerable populations. “It’s not always easy to figure out what people need and when and where.”

On Monday morning, a resident of the Bowl who said his name was Jose but goes by the nickname Pineapple was breaking up small pieces of wood near a set of “steps” dug into the dirt at the top of the Bowl.

Jose accepted an aid bag.

He said he was familiar with OLE Health and what the nonprofit offers.

“I don’t want to be here,” he said of the Bowl, but if he needs medical help, “I will go there,” Jose said of OLE Health.

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You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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