SMI Program Collaborations Around the World

The map below depicts most of the cities throughout the world where Street Medicine Institute leaders have engaged in collaborative efforts toward the development and improvement of Street Medicine Programs.  To become a Program Member, click here.

 

 

Jim Withers' Blog -- COVID19     

March 26, 2020

Even more than usual, I have been thinking of all of you and the people you serve.  The arrival of COVID19 reminds us that we are all connected and that we must respond in ways acknowledging that reality.  I’m sure most of you have been exceptionally busy these past few weeks.  We have all been forced to create new protocols that balance the epidemiological imperative to isolate with the moral imperative to not neglect our brothers and sisters on the streets.  For many of the challenges, we have found ways to adapt our practices in the streets while maintaining CDC standards of care.  In our local communities we have worked in unprecedented coordination with government and non-profit agencies.  The Street Medicine Institute has coordinated closely with the CDC and the National Healthcare for the Homeless leadership to develop guidelines for the care of the unsheltered homeless.  I was very proud of the Street Medicine Institute board for creating a document for the delivery of care within four days at the beginning of the US epidemic.  But as we know, there are other challenges that are much more difficult such as finding adequate protective equipment, testing materials and options for isolation and quarantine of our infected patients.  These will be difficult times.  But I have faith that we can do this.

We have often said that rough sleeping homelessness is a chronic disaster.  I believe that insight has prepared those in the street medicine movement for this moment.  On a daily basis we have had to work with limited resources and difficult access to mainstream medical services.  We know how to find water and distribute it to our people in killing heat waves.  We know how to create a winter shelter when the temperatures reach -20F.  We know how to work with people who are mobile and focused on daily survival.  If any group of healthcare professionals can adapt to this crisis, it is the incredible women and men who practice street medicine.

These are the times that reveal the sacred calling of healthcare.  I recall as an intern when HIV was reaching epidemic proportions, but testing was not available.  Many of the hospital personnel refused to draw blood or place IVs.  Much of that work was left to we interns who were just learning those skills!  I recall being both terrified and proud at the same time.  What a sacred privilege to be there for those whom others were rejecting.  Yes, there was risk, but this is what I had prepared myself for all my life.  To be able to help others in times of crisis – especially those whom others forget – is the soul of healthcare.  As with the early days of HIV, we must work to fight the stigmatization of our patients.  Information and love are the treatment to combat the ignorance and fear that can kill as well as any virus.

We must not forget that our greatest asset in our work is the trust, wisdom and love of the people living on the streets.  Let them know they are not forgotten.  Teach them the public health precautions they need and work with others to provide them with portable sinks, toilets and water.  Get the phone numbers of reliable camp leaders and call to check-in on a regular basis about the well-being of others.  Work with community partners to make sure the gaps in service are addressed as well as possible.  Find extra tents for isolation and ways that the people can protect themselves if there are no other options.  Ask them how they are feeling and for their ideas on how to solve the problems they see on the streets.  I believe these times, as difficult as they are, are also an opportunity to deepen the love and solidarity with the people.  God Bless you all.  Wash your hands.

GO TO THE PEOPLE

During the COVID19 pandemic, the Street Medicine Institute’s vision that communities throughout the world are transformed through the delivery of Street Medicine practices designed to meet the unique needs of rough-sleeping persons seems more relevant than ever.  In times of uncertainty, society often overlooks the marginalized in our communities, but street medicine teams around the world are continuing to go to the people and care for rough sleepers where they are. 

As the pandemic began, CNN reconnected with our Founder, Dr. Jim Withers, and other CNN Heroes to see how they are helping their communities during this time.  Jim and his team at Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net continue to go into the streets, screening those who may be at risk and providing tents and other necessities to help them self-isolate if necessary.

On the west coast, Esquire published a piece highlighting the work of SMI Vice Chair, Brett Feldman, who is the Director of Street Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC.  Los Angeles has the highest homeless population in the United States with 44,000 people being rough sleepers. Even with shortages of testing equipment, Brett and his team continue to go into the streets to foster their relationships with the homeless and educate them on the protocols of social distancing. 

Our colleague, Harsh Mander, from the Center for Equity Studies in New Dheli, India, has shared videos depicting the overwhelming need in his local community as India addresses the virus. We know that throughout the United States and the world, our members are similarly going to the people. 

Dr. William Toepper, the medical director of Portland Street Medicine (PSM), and his team were featured on The Nation for their continued care for the 4,000 homeless people in Portland.  With their focus being on reducing the spread of COVID19, the PSM volunteers make rounds three days a week and have started handing out survivor kits with socks, snacks, antibiotic ointment, and hand sanitizer.  Please send us your stories at [email protected], and we will attempt to post as many of them as possible.

Responding to requests from our members at the beginning of the pandemic, the SMI Board of Directors, with input from street medicine professionals around the world, prepared and published  STREET MEDICINE PRACTICE during the COVID19 PANDEMIC.  The purpose of these recommendations is to help street medicine teams mitigate the spread, morbidity, and mortality of the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) within staff and patients while continuing to care for the rough-sleeping homeless. 

Since its inception two years ago, the Street Medicine Institute Student Coalition has grown rapidly, and through the current leadership of Chief Coordinator, Korrinne Yurick, the SMISC helped prepare student-specific guidance which has been incorporated into the STREET MEDICINE PRACTICE during the COVID19 PANDEMIC.  While most schools have closed and are no longer allowing students to go out onto the streets, Korrinne and the student leadership team have been hosting weekly zoom calls for fellow students.  These meetings have allowed them to share their questions and concerns, as well as actively advocate for the rights of the unsheltered. They have also created a Google Drive Folder full of resources and a heartwarming video to their rough sleeper friends, whom they are unable to see during this time.

As we continue to navigate through this pandemic, the Street Medicine Institute is proud to be an advocate for you and those we serve as we all continue to go to the people.