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Living rough on the street comes with all kinds of health risks. Sleeping beneath cardboard and atop thin blankets during both the hottest and coldest nights of the year can take a dreadful toll on the human body, and when the biggest concern on a person’s mind is when (or if) their next meal will come, a doctor’s visit is left low on the agenda.
This is where the Janian Medical Care of the Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS) prides themselves on their work.
Operating out of a clinic on 198 East 121 St. in Harlem, the healthcare workers also travel around the city in search of unhoused individuals who may need medical attention. As a one branch of CUCS, Janian employs nurses, nurse practitioners, and more who supply medical services to those in shelters and individuals who call the city streets home.
“We will frequent certain hotspots. If it is a group of people in Tompkins Square Park for example, we will go to that spot in some kind of semi-regular way. But we mostly get referred people by the outreach teams who have already had some contact with that person,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Van Yu explained.
amNewYork Metro joined the street med team on Oct. 25 as they rode through Harlem offering medical services. The team operates out of a specialized van that serves as a mobile examination room where individuals can be treated in a private, sterile environment.
Led by an outreach team member, nurse practitioner Bonnie Coover and driver Justice Marin followed in the van to locations where they believed their rough-sleeping clients were staying.
During the ride, Coover explained, trust between the team and those in need is paramount — without which many homeless individuals refuse to receive aid.
“There’s varying levels of trust, whether they’re open on the first visit to draw blood, listen to their heart, some people are like that first thing. Other people it takes a long time, a long time to earn that trust. A lot of people have had anywhere from a bad experience to trauma with the healthcare system, especially a lot of the people that we see who have serious persistent mental illness, you know, they may have been hospitalized against their will. So depending on how they feel about medical people in general, it takes us time to build up that trust,” Coover said.
The first attempt at a wellness check showcased just how tricky it can be to visit patients without a permanent address.
Coming across an empty encampment, the team was forced to move on. However, Irving, a man who has claimed a small patch of a Harlem sidewalk, was found presiding over his meager belongings.