#StateOfEnrollment: Outreach to the Homeless in New York City

By Guest Blogger

This post was written by Maryanne Tomazic (Raising Women’s Voices), Get Covered New York campaign.

Strategy: Partnering with the Coalition for the Homeless to raise awareness among the population they serve about new, affordable coverage options

Where and when it was used: Engracia Jamieson, an outreach worker, traveled with the Coalition for the Homeless on their van routes in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx January – March 2014.

Notable metrics: On each van route, Engracia was able to help 25 homeless individuals learn more about the Affordable Care Act. Some individuals gave their contact information, which allowed us to follow up with reminders. If an invidual did not have a phone number, they received walking directions to a nearby navigator.

Best practices to replicate:

  • When conducting outreach to hard-to-reach populations, make sure to have written information on hand about how to get help with enrollment.
  • It’s important to refer individuals who are homeless to organizations that have walk-in hours and are within walking distance. Develop a flyer with directions or a map so individuals can easily find in-person help in their area.

To help uninsured people get connected to new affordable coverage options, the coalition Get Covered New York has been doing targeted outreach in hard-to-reach communities, including among low-income individuals and members of the homeless community in New York City.

One of the organizations we have partnered with is the Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that provides support to homeless men, women and children. Their services include housing, job training, emergency food, crisis intervention, and youth programs.

They invited our outreach worker, Engracia Jamieson, to join them on their outreach van routes to talk with consumers about the new health plan options. These conversations were had while individuals were in line to receive food and blankets from the van. Here is what Engracia had to say about the outreach.


What kind of outreach have you done with the homeless community?

I did outreach alongside the Coalition for the Homeless. They go on routes throughout Manhattan and the Bronx and when they make stops, I talk to people about the new health coverage options while they are waiting on line. I also meet many people who are homeless at the soup kitchens I visit.

How many people do you help on these routes?

It changes day to day. Sometimes you get a lot of people waiting for us at the stops and sometimes you only get a handful. Weather makes a huge difference. On average, I am able to sign up 25 people for an appointment or give them information.

Many of the navigators require you to call and set up an appointment beforehand. How does this work for people who don’t have a phone?

If I meet someone who doesn’t have a phone but wants to get covered, I give them a flyer with information about walk-in hours at a nearby navigator’s office along the route.  We try to include walking directions in Spanish and English on the flyer too.  This is important, because often it means that the next day they can go and begin to apply.

Are people excited to talk to you about the new health care options?

Yes, a lot of people are interested and very thankful. Many of the people I’ve met have had poor experiences at hospitals in the past, and in some cases emergency room visits are how they have ended up in financial trouble.  Having a plan to protect themselves is very important to them.

What kinds of questions do people ask?

Very often people ask me if they will be able to get health insurance since they already have some kind of illness. I am always happy to tell them that the Affordable Care Act has made it illegal for people to be turned down for coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

What message do you hope they walk away knowing?

I want them to know that we care and that this is real. This is a chance for them to get the care they need.

As Engracia mentioned, volunteers talk with people who do not have a phone or internet access. They may find themselves unable to call and schedule appointments with navigators. To address this issue, Get Covered New York has developed flyers with walking directions to navigators who have “open, walk-in hours.” Sample flyers can be found here in English and in Spanish.

To learn more about this outreach effort or to get more involved, contact Maryanne Tomazic at Maryanne@mergerwatch.org.  

For more ideas on how to take your outreach and enrollment efforts to the next level in the coming months, register today for our national conference, State of Enrollment: Getting America Covered, in Washington, D.C., June 16-18.

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