KCBD INVESTIGATES: Homeless man racks up $500k in medical bills

KCBD INVESTIGATES: Homeless man racks up $500k in medical bills

Sergeant Steven Bergen is on the Homeless Outreach Team at the Lubbock Police Department.

"Whenever there is a homeless individual outside your business or in the alley of your house, you're not going to be calling the Salvation Army or an outreach group or organization, you are going to be calling the police more than likely," Bergen said.

Sgt. Bergen said his team responds to those calls, helping the homeless in distress.

"If it's not bad enough they need EMS, but maybe they do need to go to the hospital, we will actually transport them ourselves," Bergen said.

Actions like those have helped establish relationships between men and women in uniform and the homeless community.

While officers work to keep the streets safe, they are still a dangerous place to call home.

"You and I, when we are in a home and we are safe and secure, our threat level is extremely low. When you are out on the streets, a lot of people get assaulted, robbed...their mentality is always in that mindset of if somebody is waking me up, are they trying to rob me? What's going on?" Bergen said.

That is exactly what happened to 61-year-old John Hawkins.

"When you are homeless on the street for two and a half years like I was, I slept in every cubby hole I could get my hands in," Hawkins said.

While those cubby holes might have provided protection from the wind and sun, they didn't protect Hawkins from much else.

"I still remember the day. I was just laying there minding my own damn business with my hands tucked in my backpack holding a phone - the only way to call 911 if there was any trouble," Hawkins said.

But one day, Hawkins said, trouble found him.

"This little guy picked up a rock and cracked my skull wide open," Hawkins said.

Hawkins said an ambulance rushed him to the hospital where doctors treated a broken facial bone, but this was far from his first visit to the hospital.

"I would say he would go at least once a week to the ER," said Paige Carroll, the Associate Case Manager at Open Door.

Open Door is a day center Hawkins frequented for the two and a half years he lived on the street.

"He has a lot of heart issues and then he also has COPD. I think he was also stressed out being on the streets and the ER was kind of a safe place for him to go," Carroll said.

The emergency room was a safe place Hawkins visited over and over again.

"Just for UMC alone within the last year, it was $450,000 I think. And a lot of that is just the ambulance ride and the ER visit, it doesn't include any hospitalization stuff that was going on," Carroll said.

Carroll said she knows Hawkins also utilized the ER at Covenant Medical Center but does not know how much he owes there.

Hawkins said he knows he owes a lot of money in medical bills, but he was unaware of the total.

"Oh God, it's all bills, every bit of it," Hawkins said.

"The average homeless individual costs a city, a municipality around $40,000 a year. People are like, how is that possible? You and I, if we get sick, we will go to our community clinic, or we will go to our doctor we have. However, they don't. They will utilize services of EMS and like an ER for their primary doctor," Bergen said.

Hawkins is well above that $40,000 average, owing more than $450,000 that he has no intention of paying.

"I don't have the money to pay for the bills, so I rip it," Hawkins said.

After Hawkins was attacked, the staff at Open Door worked to move him into its Housing First Program, which provides permanent, supportive housing for the chronically homeless.

"Now that he has been in housing, he has really stabilized, which is awesome to see. He's only been in the hospital a couple of times in the months he's been here, which may seem like a lot, but for him, it's really not," Carroll said.

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