Vision Problems for Homeless Addressed

by Mike McCray

     John Carter lost both his eye to glaucoma on the streets. A photograph of him was describe as "a haunting" image by members of Barbara Bush's staff, and led to their support of a Cleveland initiative to help homeless people with visual problems, in 1990.
     There was a homeless man who could not hear or speak and discovered that he had glaucoma.
     Two brothers were both going blind on the streets from glaucoma. One did not know he was eligible for disability which would have paid for the medicine. He was already blind in one eye before he discovered this fact. He did not discover that he could get the glaucoma medicine until it was too late for his one eye.
     A elderly homeless man only consents to surgery because he is mugged and could not see the mugger coming. Fear kept him for being treated. When he finally was treated, it was only one eye.
     A homeless ex-policeman who had been shot in the face, ran over by a truck, and suffering from emotional problems and alcoholism, developed sever cataracts from the trauma.
     A young woman is beaten blind in one eye because of a bad relationship. Her homelessness causes more immediate problems than her health.
     Everything past a few feet is a blur for Michael Copeland, he can only make out the big "E" on the eye chart. Ever since he lost his glasses, learning to read has been a struggle. It is hard enough to try and turn around your life when you are homeless, but it is next to impossible when you can not see.
     To Michael, who is working hard to improve his life by taking classes to learn to read, improvement and opportunity came to a stand still when he lost he pop bottle eye glasses.
     People seldom think of visual problems when they think of health. Most insurance plans do not even cover a yearly eye exam let alone a new pair of glasses. For a homeless person on the streets not seeing means filling out a job application is next to impossible.
     It is funny how for small investment can make a big difference in the life of someone else.
     The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Ohio Prevent Blindness, Healthcare for the Homeless, and the Cleveland Eye Clinic are attempting to restart the program to provide eyeglasses for homeless people in Cleveland.
     The project was the idea of Dr. Eric Eleff formerly of the Cleveland Eye Clinic who was frustrated with not being to get a person a pair of glasses who was visually handicapped without them. At the same time the Cleveland Eye Clinics' outreach received a call from a homeless woman who had a job promised to her if she could get some glasses.
     A number of homeless people are literally going blind on the streets for a number of reason. Glaucoma has robbed a number of the men on the streets of some their vision. Presently, no one is screening homeless women or children for visual problems. With a decline in testing and the lack of easy access to the heath care system, this population will increase. A person with a problem that can be treated can become a disabled person that will require a much larger social investment, and may never leave the welfare roll without proper screening and treatment.
     NEOCH is currently looking for volunteers to assist with this program. If you are interested in helping please call 241-1104.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published January – February 1996 Issue 13