Michael Ryan

This Fort Worth clinic helping heal the homeless may become a favorite cause

It has inspired a best-selling book and then movie, “Same Kind of Different as Me,” featuring the likes of Renée Zellweger and Greg Kinnear. And it’s about to grow, big time.

It’s Fort Worth’s own Union Gospel Mission for the homeless and hungry, one of several oases of caring on a particularly hardscrabble stretch of East Lancaster Street locally famous for being a home in the absence of a house for many of the city’s homeless and mentally ill, not to mention the spiritually and emotionally challenged.

And while feeding, housing and counseling the downtrodden is hardly a glamorous affair, providing them with basic health care is apparently an even more obscure occupation.

Until now, anyway.

Union Gospel Mission’s undoubtedly lifesaving Healing Shepherd Clinic across the street has been screening, diagnosing and treating the mission’s minor ailments — and referring major ones to John Peter Smith Hospital and kindly doctors’ offices in town — with but a few nurses and the generosity of now 12 volunteer physicians, all since 2010. And in near-anonymity.

“Nobody knows what we’re doing across the street” from the mission, says Dean Reed, president of the Healing Shepherd board.

No more.

The clinic’s dynamic board of directors is determined to better tell its story and to win hearts and perhaps some donors with the hope of someday soon relieving Union Gospel Mission of the clinic’s shoestring but growing $330,000 annual overhead.

Between social media, a ramped-up website provided by the local Pavlov marketing agency, press releases and an annual fundraiser — this year’s is 6 p.m. May 7 at TX Whiskey Ranch if you’d care to RSVP — Healing Shepherd aims to cover its pretty modest costs in caring for the most in need.

Its active board of directors has already raised more than $100,000, and it will need to raise much more soon: Union Gospel Mission is building The Vineyard, a city housing tax credit-financed $15 million, 104-unit low-income housing complex next to the mission — and when it opens next spring, Healing Shepherd will move into a bigger space on that side of the street.

A physicians group recently contributed a sizable grant for furnishings and such. But the clinic will no doubt expand its services beyond the already-estimable 6,400 patient visits of 2018. And even with volunteer physicians, and a locker of donated over-the-counter medicines the non-homeless can happily take for granted, the cost of the clinic will unquestionably go up. As has the need for it.

As a journalist, I’ve been privileged to be introduced to and immersed in a vast number of worthy causes. But I have come to believe that the three greatest are hunger, homelessness and health.

Union Gospel Mission and its partner Healing Shepherd Clinic are in the trenches of all three of those.

But of the three, once you get a hot meal, health is right up there. As with yourself and your own life, nothing else can come to much without basic health. Your mind and soul can’t very well absorb counsel or sermon when your body is blaring at you about something. It’s hard to figuratively get on your feet when the body is physically unable or unwilling.

One UGM resident recently complained of leg pain. Turns out he had the makings of potentially fatal blood clots. Thanks to Healing Shepherd, the man lived. And who on the street is watching his or her blood pressure, getting vitals checked or undergoing preventative procedures?

Were you or a loved one sick this winter? Imagine curling up on a cold sidewalk and trying to feel better, much less thinking about the future or how to get there.

Bad health and homelessness. What a toxic cocktail.

“Not having access to basic care is just uncalled for in 2019,” Reed says.

They’re coming to Union Gospel Mission by the city busload. Not because its name has been up in lights or has been feted in literary circles, which certainly can’t hurt. But because they’re hungry, homeless, down on their luck, down on themselves, maybe down on life. And how to stop from getting under the weather while living outdoors?

Many queue up outside for the meals inside and then leave. But some 400 a night are lucky or smart enough to stay and take advantage of the whole-person comprehensive help at Union Gospel Mission – the three squares, the safety and shelter, the life coaching, the mandatory chapel, the opportunity to pitch in and feel productive there, the skills and job training to maybe be productive elsewhere.

This is the beauty, the requisite nature of the Healing Shepherd Clinic.

Healing Shepherd clinic can be found at www.hsc-tc.org, (817) 338-8430.