Edward El, a CalAIM pilot program participant, will soon move into his own apartment after spending the better part of 16 years homeless. (Photo: Martin do Nascimento/CalMatters)

California launches ambitious effort to transform Medi-Cal to ‘whole person care’

in Around California/Health

At 66, Edward El has a new lease on life — literally. In two weeks, he’ll move into his own apartment in Berkeley after spending the better part of the past 16 years homeless.

Years ago, a back injury and pinched nerves in his legs made standing and walking painful, and he was laid off from his construction job. He ended up in “shelter after shelter after shelter.”

But nine months ago, El moved into one of 12 Project Roomkey shelters in Alameda County designed to reduce COVID-19 among the homeless population. He was connected with a housing navigator, a counselor and medical staff. They helped El apply for affordable housing and rental assistance vouchers, and coordinated with landlords who would give homeless renters a chance. Now he’ll pay a fraction of the cost to live in an area where one-bedroom apartments often exceed $3,000 per month.

The team also made sure that El was enrolled in Medi-Cal and had transportation to his doctor’s appointments. He said he couldn’t have navigated the array of complex systems if it weren’t for his new case management team. “I’m happy. They knew about programs that I didn’t know about that allowed me to get a place,” he said.

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