“Floating Hospital” Gives Free Healthcare To Families of Domestic Abuse & Homeless

March 1, 2017Posted by Helaina Hovitz

New York City is experiencing an ongoing crisis of family homelessness and displacement due to domestic abuse, with an increasing number of families sleeping in shelters every night surpasses 13,000 and counting, a number that includes 23,000 children.

The Floating Hospital (TFH) originally spent nearly 150 years operating on ships pulled around the city on tugboats during a time when floating hospitals were commonly used to transport families away from the smog-filled streets and tenements for a day, but now currently operates out of a clinic out of Long Island City, Queens. They are still the largest provider of primary medical, dental and mental healthcare to homeless families and domestic violence survivors living in the New York City shelter system, helping these families keep their heads above water and stay as healthy as possible during a difficult time.

A Shelter Outreach Team is tasked with reaching out to over 200 family homeless shelters and domestic violence safe houses located throughout all five boroughs of New York City, and most of The Floating Hospital’s homeless patients have Medicaid. For homeless patients who lack the documentation to acquire Medicaid, they charge patients on a sliding scale—for those unable to pay, the nonprofit offers free healthcare, a charitable service that is also offered to domestic violence survivors who are covered.


For homeless patients who lack the documentation to acquire Medicaid, the nonprofit offers free healthcare. This charitable service is also offered to domestic violence survivors who are covered under their abusers’ insurance, but cannot use it without risking exposure of their activities to their abusers; these patients are treated as uninsured. Currently, about 20% of their total annual patient visits are charitable.

One of those patients, Sofia and her two children ages 5 and 14, were living in a family homeless shelter in the Bronx when they first learned about The Floating Hospital. The family soon began receiving both medical and mental healthcare from the organization, including weekly therapy sessions that helped Sofia cope with a range of issues from anxiety to depression, which were aggravated by her difficult life in the shelter system.

“At one point, Sofia’s children were temporarily removed from her by a city agency, and the separation proved to be traumatic for the entire family,” said Markie Fisher, a representative for the organization. “She later told us that getting mental health care helped her to maintain her sanity, and, now currently reunited with her children, she continues to receive care from us, for both herself and her children, and has also successfully quit her smoking habit.”

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When another patient named Maria came to TFH for a medical check-up, the medical provider observed that she could benefit from mental health services as well after it was uncovered that she had untreated depression and PTSD from domestic abuse situations that affected her children as well. 

During her treatment, TFH noted that Maria’s symptoms were improving. She was able to provide support to her children and use effective parenting skills to teach them how to relate to her.

“She eventually obtained employment and is now working on moving out of a shelter to permanent housing.

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“Due to her undocumented status, this has been a struggle. but we continue to provide support and referrals to community resources for Maria and her family on an ongoing basis, and we will continue to work with her until she completes her recovery and achieves her goals,” said Fisher.

TFH was founded in 1866 to provide care to immigrants, tenement dwellers, newsboys, and other neglected youth. In its earliest days, the emphasis was on providing relief to people living in crowded city conditions through “fresh-air” trips on TFH ships and providing children with milk and basic medical care.

Today, many of the problems that TFH seeks to address are exactly the same; New York City is still home to thousands of families with children that need quality, charitable healthcare. The difference is that TFH has shifted its focus to supporting homeless families and domestic violence survivors, as well as families living in public housing.

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