By Jem Marshall, Executive Assistant (Impact)
The elderly couple stood at the door. Today, they both are not only dealing with diabetes, but they have an empty refrigerator. They both feel the hunger pains left by the grapefruit they had to share earlier that morning for breakfast. They were two of the many residents who responded to a knock on the door and a smiling face on the other side.
In a city of more than two million people, it’s often hard to make connections with people. We live in communities where some of us don’t even know our neighbors, let alone people in other areas. How do people get connected? How are valuable resources shared with those who need them the most?
The City of Houston Health Department sought to answer those same questions. Employees found the answer can be surprisingly simple — knock on doors and ask people what they need.
Recently, several EHF employees took part in the Health Department’s AIM project in coordination with the national initiative My Brother’s Keeper. The premise is simple – deploy city employees and volunteers into specifically targeted neighborhoods armed with information about Health Department services and resources, ready to make a referral if necessary.
While the idea is simple, it’s much more complex behind the scenes. The project actually adopts a structure used by the US military and other first responders in response to crises. That’s because in a city exploding with population growth and economic gain, many residents are facing urgent health situations. More than 18% of Harris County residents fall below the poverty line and 27% don’t have health insurance. For some, the combination creates a health crisis that the Health Department seeks to address.
The AIM project was geared toward Houston’s 5th Ward and focused on neighborhoods surrounding Wheatley, Kashmere and Scarborough high schools. During our time in those neighborhoods, we learned about the value of service and the importance of being accessible. When residents like the sweet elderly couple answered the door, we had the opportunity to connect them to resources they didn’t know existed or services they didn’t know they were qualified to receive.
Regardless of whether we were met with a smile or hesitancy, each interaction was a chance to say, “We see you, we care about you and we stand alongside you to help.”
Through EHF’s work to improve community health, we know that no system is perfect and nothing is without fallacy. People do the best they can with what they have. After our time walking Houston neighborhoods, we came away from the experience not only with a clearer picture of what it means to reach out and be in community, but what it means to create important connections with communities. They are connections that have the potential to go far beyond just conversations. They are connections that can simply start with a knock on a door.