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Flu Hits Homeless People Harder Than General Population

The flu season has affected people earlier than normal this year, and the homless often do not have good access to healthcare to combat the illness.

Homeless Sign

Photo: Kacie Lambert / Flickr

Shalom Community Center staff estimate they see up to 200 people per day at the shelter.

This year’s flu season has hit everyone hard, but for the homeless, treating winter illnesses can turn into a matter of life or death.

Lewis Jordan says when he got sick a few weeks ago, he was not the only person seeking shelter at the Shalom Community Center who’d fallen ill.

“Well everybody had it, and it wasn’t just coughing,” he says. “I mean this whole place was like a ward in a hospital. I mean, you’ve never seen so many sick people.”

Jordan says he does not know for sure whether he had the flu. He had gotten a flu shot when he was hospitalized in September. But for many of Bloomington’s homeless, getting access to that kind of preventative health care can be a challenge.

Speaking Friday on WFIU’s Noon Edition, Monroe County Community Clinic nurse Amy Meek says there are a few options to help low-income individuals in Bloomington, including the Volunteers in Medicine clinic and the Monroe County Public Health Clinic.

“You know, for children, we have a lot of things put in place for that,” she says. “For adults, we do have, at the Monroe County Public Health Clinic, we have a limited supply that when we have someone who doesn’t have the ability to pay we can help them out with that.”

But Shalom Center director Forrest Gilmore says even with those options, it can still prove difficult for his clients to seek treatment. He says many at Shalom do not qualify for Medicaid, and some have to wait to access treatment during sign up periods at clinics.

“Honestly in those kinds of cases, many of the folks that are as they do tend to use the emergency room, which is not the best way for us as a community to kind of organize how we do our health care, but that does seem to be what occurs,” he says.

Gilmore says this is the worst flu season he has experienced at Shalom Center.

Julie Rawe

Julie is Assistant Producer of Noon Edition. In addition to reporting for WFIU, she also works as an intern for NPR's State of the Re:Union. She is a graduate of Indiana University where she studied French, anthropology, and African studies.

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