On a cold February day in 2012, we heard that a long line of people were waiting for health care at Mobile Med’s medical van at the Long Branch Community Center. Dozens of people waited for more than an hour in the cold to be seen by a doctor. Unfortunately, this scene has been repeated many times in Takoma Park and Long Branch, as low-income individuals scramble to find health care for themselves and their children.
Many are immigrants who do not qualify for Federal government health care support. Often they aren't familiar with the local health care system and don’t know what to do if they need medical care. Many postpone medical care until they are sick and then go to the emergency room, where they wait for hours before they are seen.
This year, CHEER, with funding from the Healthcare Initiative Foundation and the support of partners in the Long Branch Health Enterprise Zone, hired six community health outreach specialists. These outreach specialists come from the Long Branch and Takoma Park neighborhoods with the greatest health care needs. They are trained to reach out to their neighbors to let them know about the health resources available to them. CHEER also developed a health and wellness asset inventory listing locally available health resources such as county’s safety net clinics, Mobile Med, Mary’s Center, and Community Clinic, Inc. This valuable resource is available to anyone looking for resources in this community. Using the information in the asset inventory, the community health outreach specialists talked to people outside stores and markets, at schools and libraries, and during social events. As a result of their efforts, 637 people (mostly Spanish speaking immigrants) were referred to local health resources.
Another major local health concern is diabetes. The 20912 Takoma Park zipcode has the highest hospital utilization rates for uncontrolled diabetes in the County. In 2014 CHEER conducted three diabetes wellness circles to help people who have diabetes manage this condition. Thirty three people participated and a majority reported improved diabetes management as a result. Two of the circles at Quebec Terrace and Victory Tower continue to meet.
Another major initiative is the convening of the Takoma Park Youth Development Collaborative. This is a joint venture with the Takoma Foundation, and the Takoma Park Recreation Department. Together we brought community members and local youth supporting organizations, such as MANUP, Identity, Gandhi Brigade, Community Bridges, and the Takoma Park Recreation Department into a process that culminated in a youth development summit in June 2014. The Takoma Park Youth Collaborative was born the Collaborative now has work groups that will expand employment opportunities for youth ages 16 to 24, provide career and college exposure opportunities, and promote financial literacy and other life and employment readiness skills to youth ages 12 to 24. This spring a community driven youth job training and employment readiness effort will supplement and support the City’s youth summer jobs program.
CHEER continues to support tenants in Takoma Park. CHEER support paved the way for the formation of a Tenant Association at Essex House, which conducted a successful negotiation with owners to change renovation procedures that greatly reduced residents’ exposure to dust and toxic substances that were making many residents ill. They also negotiated a rent concession to cover expenses tenants were forced to make while renovations were taking place in their homes. CHEER is supporting the formation of new tenant associations and plans to provide resources and support for all tenant associations.
CHEER is helping Takoma Park and Long Branch improve housing, health, and promoting youth development and a vibrant local economy. We invite your participation and support.