One health worker’s mission to help decrease homelessness takes a collaborative approach

A collaborative effort to decrease homelessness

For more than a decade, Kenny Catan and Lisa Hurst have struggled with homelessness. When the couple first met, it was love at first sight — a whirlwind romance, they say. Unfortunately, their season of happiness transitioned into a stream of hardships they never imagined.

“We both had jobs and then our hours got cut,” Lisa said. “You get behind so quick and we were out on the street.”

An estimated 6,900 people, like Kenny and Lisa, experience homelessness on any given day in Nevada.

“Many times, I think, ‘What are we doing out here; how do we get out of this?’” Lisa said.

That’s when the couple met Rachel Rosensteel, a health and social service coordinator for the Health Plan of Nevada, a UnitedHealthcare company. She’s executing a vision to help decrease homelessness through a more specialized and individual approach.

She spends time with those struggling, like Kenny and Lisa, to figure out the root cause of their hardships, in order to help avoid the same situation from being repeated. She works across a team of community health workers, social workers, doctors and nurses to help create a path to better health.

“I see Lisa and Kenny and that could be any of us,” Rachel said. “We found that a lot of the individuals who are out at these homeless camps were our members. So, we were able to connect them on the spot to medical care, behavioral health services and social services.”

Rachel also educates law enforcement on how to best approach and build relationships with people experiencing homelessness. She works closely with the Sparks Police Department HOPE (Homeless Outreach Proactive Engagement) team. Together, they help people access needed resources, like housing, food, clothing and health care.

“The response from the homeless population has been night and day compared to what it used to be,” said Sgt. Patrick McNeely, with the Sparks Police Department. “In the past, we’d receive a call from someone reporting a homeless person sleeping in front of their business and they would have to leave because it’s considered trespassing. Now, we're able to approach them in a different way. What you're doing is illegal, but I'm here to help. Let’s figure out what we can do.”

This collaborative approach has made a world of difference for Kenny and Lisa. The couple was able to relocate to temporary housing at a local safe camp before securing permanent housing. Now, they live in a two-bedroom apartment and dedicate their time to helping others who may be struggling to find the support and resources they need.

“Providing these services is not just about getting them help right now,” Rachel said. “It's about keeping them healthy and improving their quality of life.”

As part of Rachel’s efforts, Kenny and Lisa also received cell phones to connect with potential employers, family members and doctors, who can help address their medical needs.

“Our leadership understands there's a need throughout the community,” said Ritchie Duplechien, the director of medicaid outreach and market growth for the Health Plan of Nevada. “Every state has different barriers. So, we must figure that out and bring that message back up to the leadership. Then, we're able to implement different programs to help those in need.”

When Kenny and Lisa first met Rachel and the HOPE team in February, they had no idea what their future would hold. The couple is now hopeful and excited for the possibilities, thanks to the continued support they’ve received.

“It's good to know there's people out there that really care and can steer you the right way,” Kenny said.  “It's awesome to see them putting their hearts and time into it. It’s awesome. We appreciate it.”

Sign up to get the latest news from the UnitedHealthcare Newsroom