HAYWARD -- James McGilvery had seen the big white mobile health clinic parked outside Templo de la Cruz many Thursdays when he went to the church for a hot breakfast, but he never stopped in because of the line "of people who needed help more than me."
That changed Jan. 2 when there was no waiting; his knee was hurting, the result of an old school sports injury, he said. By the time he left the Abode Services van, the homeless man had a treatment plan, and bus and BART vouchers to get him to a follow-up medical appointment.
"I also found out I have high blood pressure," he said.
While some mobile clinics target uninsured and underinsured poor people, Abode Services is one of only two agencies with health care vans dedicated to homeless people in Alameda County, estimated at 4,000. The county's Health Care for the Homeless has two mobile clinics that make regular stops, and Contra Costa County's Health Care for the Homeless mobile clinic also visits shelters and community centers to treat that county's homeless, also estimated at 4,000 people.
In addition to treating basic health problems and checking blood pressure, the Abode clinic refers patients with more complicated problems to larger clinics and specialists, offers mental health counseling and helps clients qualify for services such as food stamps, welfare or Supplemental Social Security, or for rehab programs.
Abode has been driving to Fremont for several years, and it added Hayward about a year and a half ago, said Vivian Wan, Abode associated director. Last year, it moved to Templo de la Cruz, which serves a weekly hot breakfast in its dining hall near downtown, she said. The clinic also stops weekly at a Livermore church.
"We want to meet people where they're at," Wan said. "We're a one-stop shop."
The clinic, part of Abode's Homeless Outreach and People Empowerment (HOPE) program, operates in partnership with Tri-City Health Center in Fremont. HOPE also has a crisis team that visits homeless camps and shelters.
"We work to keep people safe where they're at, and sometimes that is on the street," Wan said. "We believe in housing for everyone, but there's not enough available." Abode's clinic saw more than 900 visitors last year, she said.
Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless also drives a mobile clinic to a Hayward church once or twice a month, said David Modersbach, that program's director. His two clinics regularly visit about 20 sites throughout Alameda County, assisting about 2,000 homeless clients last year, he said.
Abode's clinic on wheels has private rooms for exams and one-on-one counseling. It also is crammed with goods homeless people often need: hats, gloves, hygiene products and blankets.
The most requested item? Socks, said Steve Cartwright, an Abode homeless outreach support specialist. During the cold weather, he hands out sleeping bags when they're available.
"We're also a post office," he said. Cartwright collects mail from an Abode post office box in Fremont and distributes it as the clinic makes its rounds. The post office box gives the homeless an address, which is required for them to qualify for many benefits.
"Many of our clients don't even have phones," he said, but Abode will help them get cellphones through the federal Lifeline program. Some use the phones to check for shelter space, Cartwright said.
Dental problems are a big issue at both clinics. They can lead to declining health and are common among the homeless, Modersbach said. Bad teeth and gums invite infection, which can worsen heart disease and diabetes, he said. "And somebody whose teeth are falling out can't eat the nutritious food they need." Dentists volunteer at Abode's clinic twice a month, and the staff also refers clients to dental clinics.
Having cracked or missing teeth can be a barrier to getting work or self-confidence.
"We have people who won't even look at me because of their bad teeth," Cartwright said. He recalled how after one client was fitted with partials, she gazed directly at him for the first time and gave him a big smile.
Abode also teams up with LensCrafters to give clients glasses. St. Clair Jones, an Abode client, said his new glasses made a huge difference in his life.
"I can barely see without my glasses, and I knew my eyes were getting worse, but I couldn't afford a new pair," he said.
Both Abode and Health Care for the Homeless have been busy signing up clients for Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid health care program. Under new guidelines of the Affordable Care Act, impoverished single adults without children are eligible, Modersbach said.
"We estimate that about 70 percent of homeless patients we see should qualify for Medi-Cal under the new guidelines," he said.
But Alameda County's medical care system was overstretched even before the regulations changed.
"We expect that homeless persons are still going to have a lot of difficulty accessing medical care," Modersbach said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473. Follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.