Once homeless, Houston man now helps others in need get health care

Joseph Benson is a community health worker for a Healthcare for the Homeless clinic, just south of downtown Houston. He and more than a dozen other community health workers are licensed to provide guidance and referrals for Houston’s homeless population seeking all sorts of healthcare.

“Literally, in the medical clinic we have not only primary care, but we have psychiatry, we have case management, and we have the community health workers. We also upstairs have a dental clinic, a full scale dental clinic, that not only does urgent dental care, but all the way through to restorative care. So, dentures and partials.”

With a variety of services being offered here and at several other free homeless clinics in our area, its community health workers like Joseph who are on the front lines dealing one-on-one with the homeless and their health care needs. His approach with clients has always been peer to peer, because he experienced being homeless in the late 1990s.

“I lost everything. I lost family, home, business, everything. I bottomed out,” Benson says. “When I used to sleep under the Pierce elevated bridge, one of the things I use to say in my prayer was that if anyone comes to help me, I’m gonna give service back to the people I lived with.”

He says it was hard to leave the streets and move away from homelessness because he was leaving friends behind.

“You feel guilty,” Benson says. “You have made relationships with those people and you’re leaving them there and you going to get housing and working your way out of homelessness.”

But being able to relate to the homeless and being able to make a difference in their healthcare, has been very rewarding for Benson.  He still has to maintain a level of professionalism even when dealing with friends.

“You have to learn about client confidentiality, because you can’t discuss people’s business as you do business with them,” Benson says. “And you have to learn how to have boundaries. Even though they’re your friend, you still have to make a difference between the individual that’s your friend and when you’re working with them.”

Some of the hard work can be seen in the smiling faces of some of our city's former homeless, who have transitioned back into society with the help of those in this clinic, and other similar clinics that operate on donations from individuals, private companies and organizations.