Just about to finish my masters of social work at the University of Southern California. Each week we have a little over an hour of videos and online content to cover before we go to class. Today I had the opportunity to watch a documentary about an organization called Street Medicine, which you all can watch too. I found out this organization was started by Dr. Jim Withers who dressed as a homeless person in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in order to make medical visits to homeless. My undergraduate degree was at Chatham University in Pittsburgh so I really enjoyed learning this. This particular video takes place in Los Angeles. I found out more about Street Medicine, whose website is also on WordPress.
I especially like the approach of Street Medicine because they use a person centered approach, which includes being accessible to folks who otherwise may not see a doctor. Watching the video you see the staff members in plain clothes, the doctor has a back pack and they drive a van together to meet with folks. They talk about encouraging folks to go to their clinic if they need, or taking folks to the ER if that is necessary. In working with one man, they understand that first they must meet his wishes of getting a shower and clothes before they can get him to agree to go to the hospital for a large facial abscess that they believe could be life threatening if not treated soon. They are so patient with him and answer all of his questions and are willing to sit with him in the ER waiting room.
Using a person centered approach in the medical field means using user friendly language, listening openly to what the patient has to say, is concerned about, and approaching them in a way that shows respect in the most dignified way possible. This got me thinking about a past client I had, a single father who was raising two teenage sons who were homeless when I met them. I remember being impressed by their creativity, humor, musical talents, and dreams for the future. To be part of the program I worked at, they had to follow certain rules and we had to create weekly agreements they would follow in order to continue to live there. I knew this weekly agreement not followed had serious consequences; one thing I like to do was add a piece in it about self-care. While I wanted clients to understand the importance of maintaining a safe environment, I also wanted them to understand the value of taking care of themselves. And so each week clients would come up with something to do for themselves that we would add in this contract (my person centered approach). I hope that the father I mentioned has been able to continue to incorporate self-care into his life some 8 years later. His talent is still greatly appreciated by me.