A student-led initiative at Florida State University is revolutionizing healthcare for the homeless community in Tallahassee. The Homeless Outreach Medicine and Education (HOME) program aims to provide essential medical care and establish a positive relationship between healthcare professionals and individuals experiencing homelessness.
While basic necessities like food, water, toiletries, and shelter are provided by the government, the medical needs of the homeless are often overlooked. Samantha Mankus, the president of HOME and a physician assistant (PA) student, explains that many unhoused patients feel judged when seeking medical care. The HOME program strives to eliminate this stigma and build trust between healthcare providers and the unhoused community.
Every week, a small group consisting of three to five students, along with a social worker and a licensed medical professional, visits one of Tallahassee’s homeless encampments. The social worker arrives first to explain the visit and identify those in need of assistance. The students and medical professional then measure vital signs, listen to health concerns, and provide advice and recommendations for further care. If necessary, the program assists individuals in accessing clinics or obtaining prescriptions. Pain relievers, hygiene products, and bug spray are readily available to address basic medical needs.
The program, which began last year, operates as a subgroup of the Student Academy of the American Academy of Physician Assistants at FSU. With over 120 PA students participating, a lottery system determines which students get to join the weekly rounds. In the future, the program aims to expand its reach to involve more students and provide greater support to the homeless community.
Allison Justice, HOME’s faculty advisor, highlights the rewarding experience for both students and healthcare providers. The opportunity to directly engage with clients reminds the PA students of their purpose and strengthens their commitment to serving the underserved.
Funding for HOME comes from grants, monetary donations, and in-kind contributions. As a program that ventures into deep woods encampments, HOME fills a critical gap in the provision of healthcare services to this marginalized population.
Tallahassee is facing significant homelessness challenges, with over 40 homeless camps and 308 unsheltered individuals documented in the past month alone. Florida has the third-largest homeless population in the United States, with nearly 26,000 individuals experiencing homelessness. The HOME program’s compassionate approach to street medicine aims to dispel negative stereotypes and uncover the unique stories of those in need.
Q: How does the HOME program operate?
A: The HOME program consists of three to five students, a social worker, and a medical professional who visit homeless encampments in Tallahassee once a week to provide medical care and support.
Q: How does the program benefit the homeless community?
A: The program helps bridge the gap between healthcare providers and the unhoused community, ensuring that individuals receive essential medical care and guidance in a non-judgmental environment.
Q: How is the HOME program funded?
A: The program relies on grants, monetary donations, and in-kind contributions to fund its operations and provide necessary supplies to those in need.
Q: What is the goal of the HOME program?
A: The program aims to establish a positive relationship between healthcare providers and the homeless community while addressing their specific medical needs.
Q: What are the future plans for the program?
A: The HOME program intends to expand its reach to involve more students and increase the frequency of rounds to provide greater support for the homeless community in Tallahassee.