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Black History Month 2014: Bronx Health Care Facility a Success Story for 'War on Poverty'

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A Bronx health care facility that serves about 50,000 people a year is a direct result of President Lyndon Johnson's push to end poverty as part of the "War on Poverty." NY1's Erin Clarke filed the following report as part of NY1's look back at the "War on Poverty" for Black History Month.

When many were fleeing the burning Bronx of the '70s, Verona Greenland and a group from Morris Heights called the Community for Better Health stayed to help the poor who had no resources and nowhere to flee to.

"Doctors were leaving. Hospitals were closing. The traditional doctor's office, they were all gone, so people were just left to fend for themselves," Greenland said. "So this community was medically, socially and, in many cases, politically and economically abandoned."

In 1978, the group started the Morris Heights Health Center, a 7,000-square-foot storefront that would transform the community by providing health services to families, many who had never visited a doctor before.

Today, the center has grown to 18 buildings across the Bronx, standing as a victory of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty."

"We are one of the outgrowths. I always said, actually, we are one of the successful programs of the actual, the 'War on Poverty,'" Greenland said.

It's a success story because during Johnson's "War on Poverty," poor blacks not only took advantage of government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, they also used government funding to create health centers like Morris Heights that were for and run by their community.

One of the first, Operation Life, was started in Las Vegas by migrant workers from the South. Annelise Orleck wrote about it in her book, "Storming Caesar's Palace."

"It was dramatically successful. They applied for federal dollars for a program, which enabled poor kids to come in for medical screenings, and anything that was found in the course of those screenings would be treated for free," Orleck said. "They also applied for jobs for some of the women."

It's a model that's similar to the model at Morris Heights Health Center.

"We make it our responsibility and our goal to recruit community individuals," Greenland said.

It's also a model that both Greenland and Orleck say should be revisited 50 years later as the nation's leaders explore alternatives to continue battling what many see as a once again surging rate of poverty. ClientIP:,, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP