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A Prescription Your Doctor Can't Write: Housing as Health Care

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A small homeless encampment in San Francisco's Mission District. (Matthew Green/KQED)

When Bay Area cities clear homeless encampments, proponents of such plans often say they’re trying to fix a public health issue, or that encampments have become unsafe and unhealthy.

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council doubled-down by taking no action on a proposal that would have temporarily stopped enforcement of an ordinance to clear sidewalks of homeless people’s things.

But some are making the case that treating housing as an issue of public health is more effective.

In this podcast episode of The Bay, you’ll listen to a conversation with Dr. Bamberger about the how aging while homeless can lead to more severe health problems, and why he thinks Medicaid and other healthcare funding should be used to pay to house sick, homeless people.

“We have used public health as the reason to clear a lot of these encampments,” says Dr. Joshua Bamberger, a family medicine physician and associate clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco.


Bamberger says it doesn’t matter what medicines he prescribes — they won’t help if his patients don’t have a home.

“Nothing I have in my black bag improves the health of a homeless person … other than housing,” he says.

Click the “listen” button above to hear the 17-minute interview, or find the episode on one of the various podcast apps on your smartphone.

Guest: Dr. Joshua Bamberger, associate clinical professor of family and community medicine and UC San Francisco

Subscribe to The Bay on any of your favorite podcast apps to hear more local, Bay Area stories like this one. New episodes are released Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 3 a.m.  Find The Bay on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, NPR One, or via Alexa

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