Community Health Worker Program supports people facing homelessness

[3 min read]

In this article:

  • The Providence Community Health Worker Program develops strategies to improve health equity and reduce disparities.

  • Community Health Workers at Providence build personal, trusting relationships directly in their communities, connecting people to health and social services.

  • One Community Health Worker has used her own experience with homelessness to motivate her work.

“I know Providence cares for the community because of a program like this.”

When Olympia, Washington resident Damian experienced homelessness, it wasn’t what he expected.

“For people to just ignore you or give you a dirty look does so much to a person’s soul,” he says. “Everybody deserves help, no matter what your situation is.”

Damian decided to go to a nearby church for help. Thankfully, they knew the person to call – Arin Mower, a Community Health Worker (CHW) at Providence.

Improving health equity through the Community Health Worker Program

Arin is part of the Community Health Worker Program, which started at Providence during 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic[HB3] . The program is part of our ongoing efforts to identify and prioritize inequities and develop strategies to improve health equity and reduce disparities. Specifically, it connects the most vulnerable in our communities to resources, such as food banks, housing or medical appointments.

“It’s pretty much boots on the ground for Providence,” explains Arin. “And we’re able to reach the social determinant health needs for patients.”

CHWs like Arin are trusted, frontline public health workers within the communities they serve. They aim to get everyone the same level of services, health care and support – without judgment. A big part of their work involves building relationships that enable them to serve as liaisons to health and social services. 

In Damian’s case, Arin arrived within 10 minutes. They started talking, and he told her about his situation dealing with homelessness.

“Arin made one phone call and got me a bed,” says Damian. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is too good to be true.’”

Building trust with personal community connections

As part of the program, each CHW has their own set of clients. They make phone calls to connect with the client and learn about the barriers they’re facing. Then, they meet them in person, whether it’s at a park, the library or wherever the person needs them to be. There’s a lot of flexibility, so CHWs can be devoted to supporting those who need it most.

And, for Arin, the work is personal.

“When I experienced some homelessness in my past, people didn’t see me,” she remembers. “They just walked right past me.”

So, now, Arin makes it a point to let the people she works with know they are valued, loved and heard. She also uses the barriers she experienced to motivate her work.

“She understands your situation, not just by reading a book. She actually experienced what we go through,” says Damian. “That’s really important to me to connect with someone like Arin who has that understanding and mindset of, ‘I’ve been through that.’”

Celebrating program successes

In 2022, Arin was happy to count 93 successes as a CHW, with Damian being one. Damian is extremely thankful to the Community Health Worker Program and to Arin, who inspired him by simply caring and seeing him as a person.

“Before, the only person I wanted to help was myself, because I didn’t see people help people. I just saw people take stuff from people,” says Damian. “For [Arin] to help me without asking anything in return, I was like, ‘That’s very different.’”

Moving the Community Health Worker Program forward

At Providence, we now have 130 CHWs across seven states. But we know we need more. Nationally, data has shown that CHWs make substantial contributions to care teams and communities, including cost savings and reduction in emergency department visits, improvements in mental health wellness and disease self-management.

As the Community Health Worker Program expands, we hope to see more and more success stories that make progress in the communities we serve. To provide health care that goes beyond the operating room. And to create health care for a better world. 

“I know Providence cares for the community because of a program like this,” Arin says. “I want to see this program blossom into a really strong health equity program.”

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Contributing caregiver

Arin Mower, Community Health Worker, Washington

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Related resources

Providence-supported academy readies community health workers for clinical settings

Community health worker programs support local care

Community health worker programs provide local, culturally competent care

Providence ministries work with community partners to get those in need the support they deserve

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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