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SafeHouse and GSU extend medical care to homeless people

By Hannah E. Jones

For people who do not have constant access to housing or work, accessing quality health care can seem like an impossible task.

In Atlanta, this applies to quite a few people. About 3,200 residents are homeless, according to a report 2020 through Home partners, and many are forced to fend for themselves without consulting the doctor.

Eager to help provide medical access to homeless people, Georgia State University (GSU) and SafeHouse Awareness have been partners for over a decade.

SafeHouse is a non-profit organization located in downtown Atlanta, bordering the GSU campus, providing support and resources to homeless residents.

Last semester Lauren Newhouse, a nursing student at GSU, spent her Thursdays caring for some of the homeless residents of the city center.

Two days a week, Newhouse and about 20 other undergraduates visited SafeHouse to perform health exams and discuss patient needs.

Student Anna Woo performs a health exam with a patient. (Photo by Meg Buscema)

A central feature of the visit is foot care, where patients are given an Epsom salt foot bath and clean pairs of socks – instant relief for anyone still on their feet.

“It really turned into a spa day for them, I think,” Newhouse said. “And I just love to see the instant relief of putting your toes in lukewarm water, you might just see this moment [of relaxation]. “

Students also teach their patients about best practices for general well-being, such as diet and blood pressure, as well as how to manage existing health issues.

“We had a man who was diabetic and he was injecting himself with insulin, which is really great,” Newhouse explained. “However, he was reusing his needles because he didn’t know they were supposed to be changed every time, and there is a risk of infection. But he didn’t know where to get a new supply of syringes, so there are just a few things that create a huge barrier in their care.

Their visits weren’t all business, however. While at SafeHouse, Newhouse enjoyed seeing familiar faces, and there was a trio of men she was always happy to catch up with.

“They were like the best buddies ever; you would always see them together, ”she said. “They were the loveliest, most genuine characters I have ever met. These people knew very bad conditions, but they always walked in with a smile, and I swear I felt like I was theirs. granddaughter, and I sure felt like I was catching up with old friends every time they walked in.

“When you’re an institution like the state of Georgia and you have a homeless population two or three blocks from your house, and if you don’t do anything, that’s a problem,” Atraga said. . (Photo by Meg Buscema)

Cheru Atraga, clinical assistant professor at the GSU School of Nursing, coordinates community clinics for the undergraduate nursing program, such as trips to SafeHouse. Like Newhouse, he emphasized the importance of connecting with patients on a human level rather than focusing on labels.

“We call customers ‘friends’,” noted Atraga. “So when we talk about mental health, we also play that role by giving them a good smile, good greetings and a good conversation. It gives them a very good feeling of being accepted.

Besides mental health, SafeHouse CEO Josh Bray noted other barriers to good health, such as the high-carbohydrate foods offered in shelters and the “never-ending cycle of being sleep deprived.” .

Some clients are referred for treatment at nearby practices because students are not yet licensed to practice medicine. It’s a useful step, Atraga explained, but it still presents a myriad of barriers to access, like transportation and financial burden.

Wanting to offer more services, Atraga, a certified family nurse practitioner, plans to establish a permanent clinic at SafeHouse.

Bray is a big supporter of the plan, noting that the city needs a variety of options for people to receive care.

“We need quick and easy access to basic medical care for those living on the streets. And it doesn’t all have to be in one place, ”he said. “If someone is on the street and terrified of life, they don’t leave more than two square blocks.

Bray continued, “As humans, we all have different opinions, tastes, and confidences, don’t we? Well when you experience roaming it doesn’t change. So there are a lot of people who absolutely love SafeHouse and hate Crossroads, and [vice versa]. “

Bray and Atraga both hope to grow their partnership, expand access to medical care, and help break down the stigma surrounding homeless people.

“[The patients] are also aware that there is an embarrassment there because most of the students do not come from a background where they are committed to the homeless, ”said Bray. “So as an organization it’s great for us to help people see people through a bit clearer lens. ”

If you want to know more about SafeHouse and its mission, Click here.

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