Engaging Detroit

Street Medicine Detroit

“I just wanted to make sure I’m healthy. I got a flu shot and now I’m protected. I’ll give you all an A+. Thank you!
– Irvin Hicks, patient

Founded in 2012 by WSU medical student Jonathan Wong, Street Medicine Detroit’s mission is to provide high-quality health care to Detroit’s homeless population wherever they are — in shelters and on the streets. According to Street Medicine Detroit’s mission, the intent is to “bridge the gaps between the homeless and medical communities by building relationships and offering companionship and respect.”
FEach week, medical student volunteers with Street Medicine Detroit make “street runs” in partnership with members of Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) homeless recovery services to provide medical and related social services to homeless people. NSO provides supervision on “street runs” and medical oversight by a certified nurse practitioner. The student volunteers perform basic health procedures and treatments for homeless patients, such as assessing health history, checking vitals, treating injuries and illnesses, and distributing medication when appropriate. Volunteers receive training in how to work with homeless patients, with an emphasis on engaging with patients in a manner that respects their comfort zones, listening to patient concerns and priorities, and using nonjudgmental language.

“I really like the simplicity of Street Medicine Detroit. We go to the patients and provide the care that they need without any social barriers. It’s the essence of medicine, without waiting rooms and billings. Just the patient and clinicians,” said Phil Ison, second year nurse practitioner and student.

Street Medicine Detroit’s work is an important part of addressing the city’s social and economic needs. Detroit has an estimated 16,000 homeless people. Accessing health care can be challenging for homeless people for many reasons, including cost, distrust of doctors and hospitals, and lack of transportation. They cannot take advantage of Medicaid because it requires a permanent address to verify residency; those that do seek out medical services often use emergency rooms for primary care. A 2014 WSU study found that the cost of emergency room treatments is about $1,600 per day for frequent users from the homeless population.

Street Medicine Detroit has won several awards and accolades for its work, including the Michigan Campus Compact Award and the 2015 Dr. Arthur L. Johnson Community Leadership Award from WSU’s Office of Government and Community Affairs. The group is run by a leadership team of nearly 30 medical students and professionals, and has more than 400 volunteers. Street Medicine Detroit plans to pursue nonprofit 501(c)(3) status and expand its services in the coming years in order to further its ability to provide needed medical services to Detroit’s homeless population.