‘Grassroots’ healthcare effort for homeless happening at Burnside Shelter

health resource day at burnside shelter

The Burnside Shelter hosts a “health resource day” on Thursday mornings.

One of the issues often overlooked when it comes to homeless men and women is their healthcare needs. As a demographic that frequently uses emergency rooms, their healthcare can be very costly. And as a way of increasing the amount of outreach taking place, while also helping as many people as possible, the staff at Portland Rescue Mission’s Burnside Shelter has helped organize a “health resource day” in our Guest Care Center.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us to help a very vulnerable group of people. It gives our guests an opportunity to have someone to talk to about their health-related questions and, in turn, have another reason to come here to the Burnside Shelter and feel safe and cared for,” said Tim Desper, Burnside Services Manager.

Joining Tim and his team in their efforts to provide health-related resources for guests on Thursday is CareOregon, OHSU and an array of other services. All bring something unique and different to the collaboration.

Tamara Pedrojetti, Community Relations Program Coordinator for CareOregon, calls the opportunity “our ultimate grassroots outreach.”

She goes on to say their goal for being there is to be proactive and meet those needing medical help and services right where they are. “We want them to feel comfortable approaching us if they need to,” Pedrojetti said.

Karl Berry of CareOregon helps a guest.

Karl Berry of CareOregon helps a guest get help.

“I don’t think anyone else is doing this in the state. … This is one place where we’re literally pulling all of our resources together to help.”

Karl Berry, another CareOregon representative, reiterated some of the issues they try to help the guests with. “We will often see the same people over and over again. So we’ll try to look at them and figure out what the barrier is that’s keeping them homeless.

“Are they chronically homeless? Is there a barrier of not having access to something they need? Is there something in the community that can help them? … Whatever it is, we make ourselves available, offer up our assistance and hope the information we can give to them is helpful.”

For two hours every Thursday morning (8 a.m. to 10 a.m.), the Guest Care Center sees about 15 people a week venture into its space to take advantage of the healthcare resources being offered during that time. Outside of just information and access, this also includes some more hands-on help with getting those high-utilizers of ERs into cheaper and much more practical primary care help. Social workers from OHSU, like Drew Grabham, help head up this process by actively following up with many of those high-utilizers on Thursday.

“We wanted to do some assertive outreach and engagement to start delivering healthcare differently to those who need it,” he said. “Some of these folks are pretty sick, and we don’t want to wait to reach out to them until they’ve had six visits to the ER. We want them to get very focused information we’re providing, and very specific direction that can help them.”

Janelle Izzi and Drew Grabham of OHSU

Janelle Izzi and Drew Grabham of OHSU.

On top of getting the health care guests need, they are also treated to warm coffee, more opportunities for friendship and good conversation.

As Tim describes, it’s the “ethos of ministry” here at Portland Rescue Mission.

“Any way we can provide a place for our guests to feel cared for and we can meet their needs, we’re going to embrace those opportunities,” he emphasized.

And thanks to the “health resource day,” the ultimate goal continues to be fulfilled on a weekly basis.