Homeless Healthcare Society: A New Initiative

If you break it down, healthcare students have three key desires:

  1. To help those in need
  2. To overcome challenges
  3. To be a bit nosey

How can you combat all three? The answer – to support the healthcare of one highly vulnerable population, the homeless.

Of course, this may sound strange to some people. Homeless individuals don’t make the easiest of patients. They can be aggressive, rude, intoxicated and often downright difficult. However, if you are willing to scratch beneath the surface and persist a little bit more, the stories you uncover will not be matched anywhere else. Unfortunately, so few listen to them.

There are two key areas where the average layperson clashes with the homeless.

The first is in understanding the cause of their destitution. Many assume that these people must have done wrong in their life. Most often cited causes are drugs and crime, closely followed by an inability to sustain relationships or unemployment. Of course, sometimes these are the acute reasons people lose the safety of a roof over their head.

However this is far from the end of the story, and in order to find that out you must sit down with them and talk. All of their stories are unique and diverse, with life experiences far more interesting than any I can claim. You hear of the domestic abuse they faced as a child, or how their mother was addicted to drugs before even they existed. More often than not it is simply a lack of opportunity in the poverty stricken life they were born into.

The homeless are very rarely bad people. Instead they are victims of misfortune, born into a world of injustice where they lack the social support the rest of us take for granted. And we, rather than listen to their harrowing stories, walk past without even looking down.

The second issue is drugs and alcohol. “I won’t give homeless people change – you don’t know where they’ll spend it!” Well I’ll have a pretty good guess where they’ll spend it. It’ll probably be on some booze, heroin or Spice (a new synthetic cannabinoid). Of course we’d rather feel we make a difference by feeding or housing these vulnerable individuals.

But that is not the reality – you do not live in their reality.

Every day is a battle to escape the abysmal conditions which surround them. I can say that of every homeless addict I have spoken to, none have ever said they started drugs or binge drinking because they thought it would be a great laugh. The answer is always the same – it is a coping mechanism, used to escape the real world. It is almost too cliché, but you cannot judge anyone until you have lived through what they have. Many wish they could escape the vice of addiction, but the services and support required are just not available.

At this point in the blog, I realise it all sounds a bit doom and gloom. But the first step to solving these issues is understanding them. Indeed that is the aim of the new society I have recently formed. The Homeless Healthcare Society seeks to improve the quality of services available to these people, ending the gross inequalities currently present (the life expectancy of a homeless person is just 47 years vs. 77 years in the general population). The reasons behind this are complex, but the bottom line is that such a rift should not exist. Everyone in this country has the same entitlement to NHS healthcare, regardless of social and economic status.

The Homeless Healthcare Society has three main aims:

  1. UNDERSTAND – lectures given by support workers, healthcare staff, charities and homeless individuals
  2. ENGAGE – provide access to volunteer work with homeless populations
  3. IMPROVE – seek to change attitudes towards homelessness and better the care available

I was recently honoured to be involved with the Global Health Society’s sold out event Refugees & The Homeless: Real Stories. You could feel the enthusiasm in the air as we were graced by both fantastic speakers and audience members. It is time to capitalise on this passion. Whether it is simply stopping and talking to a homeless person, or getting involved in the new Homeless Healthcare Society.

So the most important message I would like to give to you today is:

Do something.

Make a difference.

 


Many thanks to the Global Health Society for their fantastic work and support. I look forward to what a future alongside them may hold.


Josh Strange, a medical student at Manchester Medical School, became interested in getting involved with the homeless after attending a first year talk on homelessness by Dr Pip Fisher. Since then he has volunteered with various local food banks and soup runs. Most recently he has been assisting Urban Medical Village conduct the ‘homeless health needs’ audit. Josh has now formed the ‘Homeless Healthcare’ society – find out more here .

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