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Street Medicine, Other Homeless Health Initiatives Receive Permanent Support

March 23, 2021

AUSTIN, Texas — Central Texans without homes are getting a permanent health champion at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin.

Austin philanthropists John Paul and Eloise DeJoria and their family foundation have given $2 million to create an endowment that will provide ongoing support for Dell Med’s faculty leader and programs improving health for people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, as well as other vulnerable populations.

Tim Mercer, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of population health and internal medicine, leads the school’s work to develop long-term, sustainable approaches to caring for those without homes in partnership with CommUnityCare Health Centers and Integral Care. Mercer practices as a primary care physician for CommUnityCare’s Health Care for the Homeless program.

John Paul DeJoria, Tim Mercer and Clay Johnston posing with peace hand signals.

“People experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations require innovative care models to address their health and social needs,” Mercer said. “JP and his family get this, and we are so humbled and grateful for their support. This endowment will allow Dell Med to make a permanent commitment to taking responsibility for the health and well-being of this population in our community.”

Mercer and his team lead the federal grant-funded Mobile, Medical and Mental Health Care Team (“M3 Team”) serving people experiencing chronic homelessness who have a chronic medical condition, serious mental illness, and substance use disorder. Additionally, with his team at CommUnityCare, they collaborate with Austin Public Health and the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) to test, treat — and now vaccinate — this population for COVID-19, while ensuring people have a safe place to quarantine and recover. Last week, Dell Med began vaccinating people at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) in collaboration with CommUnityCare Health Centers and Austin Public Health.

The JP’s Peace, Love & Happiness Family Foundation Endowed Chair will support the continuation and expansion of Dell Med’s street medicine programs, research, and training the next generation of doctors skilled at caring for vulnerable populations. The chair will be based in the school’s Department of Population Health and is a lead gift for UT Austin’s annual day of giving, 40 Hours for the Forty Acres, on March 30-31.

“At one time in my life I was homeless; I know what it’s like,” said DeJoria, who lived in his car while building his business empire. “The American dream happened for me. True success is doing something for someone else and asking nothing in return — success unshared is failure. My family and I wanted to invest in a permanent position to help people in need, and UT and Dr. Tim Mercer are the perfect partner for this.”

The foundation previously gave gifts of $100,000 and $250,000 to Dell Med to support health care for people experiencing homelessness, including COVID-19 treatment, testing and contact tracing. And it donated 20,000 surgical masks and 1,000 rapid COVID-19 tests to aid mobile testing teams caring for people without homes, as well as meals for vaccination staff at UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of Dell Med.

“To improve health for everyone in our community, we must develop and scale new, nonconventional ways to transform care delivery,” said Dean Clay Johnston, M.D., Ph.D. “We so appreciate the DeJorias’ vision and support.”

In 2011, DeJoria, co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patrón Spirits International, joined other billionaires — now about 200 — in signing the “Giving Pledge” to give half of their wealth to make the world a better place. The DeJorias hope their gift to Dell Med will inspire others to support this work and other efforts in the Austin community to protect, heal and house people struggling with homelessness.

Gifts of all sizes can be made to support Dell Med’s ongoing COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination efforts for Central Texans without homes.