In 1950, The National Health Care for the Homeless Council was formed with the mission to eliminate homelessness in the United States. After 27 years as the founding executive director of the council, John Lozier will retire on December 31, 2016.
“Over the last three decades, we have built a strong organization that is well-integrated and national in scope, involving everyone from physicians and physiologists to caseworkers and people experiencing homelessness themselves in a consensus-driven organization,” Lozier said. “My successor will inherit an organization that is well positioned to be a powerful national presence.”
The National Health Care for the Homeless Council consists of a large network of doctors, nurses, advocates and social workers who seek to provide education, training and research related to care to people experiencing homelessness. The organization, which provides support to over 200 public health centers nationwide, collaborates with government agencies and private institutions to secure housing and health care for all.
Lozier said the organization has expanded with the growth of the federal health care for the homeless program. The 19 homelessness projects that were grantees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in the 1980s are the backbone of the council’s 200 organizational members today.
“There are now 297 federal grantees and about half of those are members of our organization,” Lozier said. “In addition to direct providers of primary care, our membership includes a number of other national organizations and affiliated interests that meet in the intersection of homelessness and health.”
Lozier said that while the organization has begun to use online platforms, such as the “Got Medicaid” Campaign, to increase public awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness, the council has put a strong emphasis on the importance of face-to-face interaction between advocates for the homeless population.
“Health care for the homeless providers are often not well integrated into the medical communities and broader social service communities,” Lozier said. “So the providers are isolated really as an effect of who they have chosen to serve. A lot of our efforts over the years have been building a community with people who are really committed to the health and needs of the population of people experiencing homelessness.”
Lozier said one of the most important accomplishments of NHCHC has been the preservation of health care for the homeless as an explicit discipline within the federal budget. When the Health Care Consolidation Act was passed in 1996, the council was able to secure a permanent “set aside” within community health centers for health care for the homeless.
“There remains, as a legacy of the work of the demonstration program and the council, a funding stream that is pretty healthy: it’s 8.7 percent of the overall community health center funding stream,” Lozier said. “That’s not going away, just as, unfortunately, homelessness is not going away.”
Lozier, now 63 years old, said he began his career helping the homeless largely in response to the war in Vietnam.
“I decided to dedicate my life to working for peace,” Lozier said. “I found a field where I could work to build a community that I believed was necessary to achieve justice. I have always seen the work that I do as work that is ultimately trying to build peace in the world.”
Lozier said that despite the victories of the council, they are far from achieving their initial goal.
“We hoped to end homelessness and end it soon,” Lozier said. “Our intent was to work ourselves out of a job. We have come to realize we are up against economic and political forces that don’t have any real interest in ending homelessness and in fact perpetuate homelessness. Here we are 30 years later with what is often described as an industry of homeless services, and we really regret that. We are a part of it, and we are saving lives and helping people exit homelessness every day, but more keep coming. And we haven’t been able to shut off that tap.”
Lozier said that in addition to someone who is a visionary advocate, the council is looking for someone who is a good manager to be the next executive director.
“We’ve become over the years a fairly complex organization,” Lozier said. “It’s a lot to say grace over. We need someone who is really capable of doing that.”