A New Orleans Drop-In Center Rebuilds: A Conversation with Edward Bonin, MN, FNP-C, RN

If you ask Edward Bonin, Director of the Tulane University Drop-In Center in New Orleans, LA to tell you about his program, he’ll say he’d rather tell you what it was like before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. In spite of this, it is clear that the Drop-In Center still has much to be proud of as the staff has shown immense flexibility and a deep commitment to serving homeless youth in the New Orleans community.

The Drop-In Center’s clinic building was badly damaged by the hurricane, and this past June, roofers were just beginning repairs. Covenant House, a partner of the Drop-In Center, invited Bonin and his staff to use some of their space to house the clinic temporarily. The Drop-In Center also has one small room down the street that is used for groups and makes basic toiletries available. Youth can also meet with case managers and find assistance with housing and services. Frustrated by the fact that the program can no longer offer youth showers, food and a place to rest, Bonin and his staff are eager to return to the old space.

Although the Drop-In Center's services are limited by its current location, the staff’s commitment to youth and to the community is clear. Because many pediatricians in New Orleans were unable to return to their practices after Katrina, many babies, young children and adolescents were in need of medical services. The Drop-In Center opened itself up to these new clients in the wake of Katrina. These days, most people come to the Drop-In Center for well baby exams, immunizations, upper respiratory infections and skin problems. Additionally,the Center addresses common mental health needs including depression, conduct disorders, and anxiety and substance use disorders. It is hard to determine the difference between pre- and post- Katrina medical needs, because of the change in patient population.

If you ask Mr. Bonin what is unique about the Drop-In Center, he will say it’s that the staff will see anyone who is in need of services at no cost. The staff encourages young patients to make the Drop-In Center their medical home. To support the notion of a stable medical home, the philosophy of the Drop-In Center is to meet people where they are rather than imposing service or treatment requirements. The Drop-In Center is the only clinic in New Orleans that is able to provide low cost family planning and reproductive services to youth. This type of open door is unique in the city. At the time of our interview, the Drop-In Center saw 2,418 unduplicated patients since January 2006. Bonin was clear that many more encounters had taken place but were not necessarily recorded in the system.

An important issue facing homeless youth is that Medicaid and Medicare are not available for unaccompanied youth under age 19. Additionally, accessing permanent supportive or transitional housing for adolescents is challenging because of their age. In general, housing, services and benefits that are designed for adults can not always meet the needs of youth. If we are to effectively support youth who are homeless, programs must be tailored to the special needs of this age group.

Selected Innovative Programs Serving Homeless Youth:

Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets
PSKS is an advocacy/education center and a partner with the United Way of King County. It is located on Capitol Hill and provides basic needs as well as referrals for homeless and street involved youth and young adults 30 and under.

Seattle Youth Garden Works
This program empowers homeless and under-served youth through garden-based education and employment. Its goals are to connect youth to housing, health care, education, jobs and community.

Street Yoga
This group is dedicated to bringing free yoga and wellness education to youth in the Pacific Northwest. Street yoga teaches classes for youth living on the streets, girls in foster care, children of homeless families and young people recovering from abuse and trauma.

The Backdoor: A Road to Change
This innovative Canadian organization assists young people exiting the street cutlure to become self-sufficient and engaged members of society.

Publication Date: 
Newton Centre, MA, USA