Written by: Colleen Lopp, Regis DPT 2nd Year Student
How often do you drive by someone experiencing homelessness? What do you do? How do you feel? Maybe I am naïve and optimistic, but I like to believe everyone who is willing to beg in the street could use some help and I always want to offer what I can. I usually shift through my purse only to realize I don’t have cash. I look around my car hoping I managed to stow away a snack, but I don’t find one. On the rare chance where I do have something to offer them, I quickly hand it to them before the light changes, but I am left wondering if that was what they needed. I wonder who they are and wish I could have a conversation. Just a moment of passing someone in a car, doesn’t create an opportunity to understand or to let go of any judgments I might feel.
At Haven of Hope I feel like I get the chance to have a conversation. The shelter itself is open Monday through Friday from 7:00am to 1:00pm. There are countless resources such as laundry service, phone service, internet access, clothing donations, hygiene kits, distribution of over the country medications, an outreach coordinator to work one on one with guests on finding resources for employment, transportation, and housing opportunities. There are also many weekly resources such as representatives from stout street mobile medical clinic, VA representatives’ visits, dental clinic, yoga classes, and massage therapy. Every 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month Regis opens a physical therapy and wound clinic. This shelter fosters a safe community of support in which those experiencing homelessness can get the resources they need.
There are so many DPT students who have given up their Wednesday mornings to help run the clinic, make breakfast, sort through clothing donations, and lend a hand. It’s an opportunity to serve a population in need and often learn about someone’s experiences from their own perspective. For me, I have had a chance to work with a number of patients and it is eye opening. It is often a little intimidating trying to treat someone who is experiencing homelessness, but I try to be present for the patient and make seeing a health care provider a positive experience for them. One patient that really resonated with me was an older man who was covered in face tattoos. He was looking for wound care for his recently amputated toe, after losing it to frostbite. As I started to gather his history, he was very open with me about his drug usage and his journey with addiction and told me he was currently coming off a high. He shared with me his story on losing love ones and how he started his substance abuse. He told me how his relationship with speed and other drugs lead him to the streets. He was currently searching for a rehab program that would allow him to remain on his medications for diabetes. It was really powerful to listen to his story and be able to create a space where he could share. Instead of coming from a place of judgement, I praised him on his journey and encourage him to keep looking for rehab centers. Dr. Alice Davis helped clean the wound and we were able to provide a new pair of socks to help keep his feet dry and clean. At the end of the session we were able to get him in contact with the site’s staff to help find more information on rehab centers in the Denver area.
When working with those experiencing homelessness, there are so many factors contributing to their well-being, creating a space of understanding and openness is powerful and can help treat the patient. I believe that even a conversation can offer comfort and in some cases, can lead to further information on resources to address their needs. The Haven of Hope allows for increased access to healthcare and connections to resources to really serve those in need. Spending time in this clinic has made me want to work more with those experiencing homelessness even more and learn more about how I can help. Even a simple conversation can make a difference.