When UTHSC medical students discovered there was no service organization on campus that focused on the homeless community in Memphis, they sprang into action. They created Memphis Street Health, a community health initiative that provides health care education and access to the homeless.
“Our vision is to seek out homeless individuals on the streets of Memphis and provide them with continual point-of-care medical attention as an avenue to build individual relationships and highlight each person’s unique value to the community,” said fourth-year medical student and Memphis Street Health co-president Hanna Akalu. “It falls in line with our mission statement: ‘As long as people live outdoors on our streets, along our riverbanks, and in our abandoned buildings, Memphis Street Health will provide access to health care that meets their unique needs.’ ”
Some of the projects Memphis Street Health organizes or supports include, the Monthly Foot Clinic, Family Promise Clinic, Room in the Inn, and Meals on Heels.
The Monthly Foot Clinic was established because the homeless population is more at risk for poor foot health because of overuse, lack of adequate foot protection, and extreme weather conditions. Memphis Street Health provides the homeless with warm foot baths, new socks, and foot health education.
“A sizable number of homeless people are also suffering from morbidities, such as hypertension, diabetes, alcoholism, and injuries that further complicate their foot health,” said co-president Coleman Breland, also a fourth-year medical student.
The group also volunteers with Family Promise, an organization whose mission is to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence through a community-based response. This involves providing transitional housing at participating local churches, connecting families to vital resources, and getting families into permanent housing.
For the past two winters, Memphis Street Health has joined forces with Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis for its Room in the Inn shelter program. Volunteers help set up and serve dinner for the guests during the overnight stay at the church on Sundays.
“My favorite thing about being a part of this group is that what we do isn’t just a mental exercise or theoretical benefit to others,” said Robert Elrod, M4. “Whether it is scrubbing feet at the Foot Clinic or performing physicals for Family Promise, we are getting to do that fundamental thing that many of us got into medicine to do in the first place — using our minds and hands to help someone else in need. During these years of academic inundation, it’s a powerful thing to remain acquainted with the human touch and experience the good that can come from simply spending time with someone.”
Meals on Heels is Memphis Street Health’s version of Meals on Wheels. Students pack healthy sack lunches to provide balanced meals for the homeless.
“One of the great parts of Memphis Street Health is the relationships that students get to form,” Akalu said. “When a student volunteers on a regular basis, they are bound to see familiar faces every month. Because of this, the students and the individuals being served form a unique relationship. Most medical students and homeless people do not have the opportunity to interact with each other in this manner, so it is a wonderful thing that Memphis Street Health provides this type of opportunity.”
Memphis Street Health is still actively assisting the homeless community. Their monthly Foot Clinic is occurring January 19 and they will be volunteering with Room In The Inn on January 27.
Note: This story is from the most recent issue of Medicine magazine.