As told to HRC’s Wendy Grace Evans
I am a community mental health nurse and PATH provider. I’m new to the field of homeless services on the Project Outreach Team with Community Support and Treatment Services of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Before this job, I worked for three years with people who had suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).
I try to build relationships with people who are experiencing homelessness, substance use disorders, and mental illness on collaborative teams. I usually go on outreach with another nurse, or a social worker. Ann Arbor is a small college town. We meet people where they are, which may be under one of four bridges, by the river, in the woods, by the railroad tracks and at our clinic and local centers that provide food. I offer human contact, genuine interest in listening to people, medical assessments, clothing, food, medications, and referrals to the medical clinic. It is amazing to me that I am paid to provide essential community services.
Recently I worked on an outreach team to see Joe who lives under a bridge. I had talked to him several times before. He has had a history of not accessing services for mental health and medical care. On the day we arrived, I observed that he was comfortable enough with me to not hide his alcohol or drug use. I had never gone on an outreach and seen Joe drinking and using. But this day, he was comfortable enough with me to set up his next appointment at the clinic while drinking a fifth of vodka and smoking a joint.
He was sitting under the bridge with some of his friends. I’d never considered that as a nurse I would sit under a bridge, and connect with another person. It is really amazing that this kind of work actually exists. We have met and talked numerous times. Joe is very approachable and easy to talk to. He loves to chat and shoot the breeze. He’s an intellectual and I think that he likes that I listen to and recognize his ideas. I think he likes that I know him by name and care about him getting medications that help treat his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He’s been into the clinic recently to talk about getting Medicaid. I have called his prescriptions into the clinic and I’ll deliver his medications to this bridge location, his home. I am sure he’s had his share of people letting him down in the past, but he knows I’ll be back.
Joe is a die-hard camper. He has a tent and a sleeping bag, radio, cigarettes, alcohol, and food all next to the railroad tracks. Our city has a lot of different food programs, more than most, so I often see Joe at the churches that serve meals. In about a month, I will be taking Joe to the hospital for a surgery to repair facial damage from a childhood trauma. He will be in the hospital for a while and I will be there to help him through that process.
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