‘Street Medicine’ Saving Lives, Supporting Access to Housing Resources

‘Street Medicine’ Saving Lives, Supporting Access to Housing Resources

TRAVERSE CITY – Efforts to meet core needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in Traverse City continue to gain traction through the ‘Street Medicine’ collaboration between Munson Healthcare, Traverse Health Clinic, and Goodwill Northern Michigan.

Leaders of all three organizations say a more comprehensive program over the past year has resulted in individual success stories on issues such as access to health care, chronic disease management, mental health and substance use care, as well as connecting those who are unhoused to appropriate housing resources.

“We’ve managed pregnancies, used Suboxone® for addiction issues, and helped triage patients who are most vulnerable and need immediate housing. While ‘Street Medicine’ is saving lives, the reality is that homelessness reduces your life expectancy by 30 years – something we’re trying to address locally with this collaboration,” said Dr. David Klee of Munson Healthcare. “Our goal is also to remove the stigma that our patients face as homeless individuals. From my own experience caring for these individuals, the vast majority of people have experienced multiple traumas and did not choose a life on the street.”

The Street Medicine Program is a community collaboration where Traverse Health Clinic and Munson Healthcare work alongside GoodwillNMI’s Street Outreach team to connect with people experiencing homelessness wherever they are and provide medical care: in neighborhoods, on the streets or in the region’s woods. Some of the highlights of the program include:

  • Since adding a mobile medical unit last fall, the Street Medicine team has recorded 445 patient visits in the Grand Traverse region – preventing many trips to the emergency room.
  • Two days a week, the Street Medicine team, including Munson Family Medicine Residency residents and GoodwillNMI Street Outreach workers, go out together in the community to see patients.
  • The addition of Traverse Health Clinic’s mobile medical unit and the ability to treat patients and track their health using the mobile unit’s electronic medical record has enhanced the care and helped the Street Medicine team reach more individuals in 2023.
  • The program is receiving statewide and international exposure with Dr. Klee, Associate Program Director for Munson Family Medicine Residency Program as well as Community Assistant Dean for the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine Traverse City Campus,
  • and Ryan Hannon, Community Engagement Officer from GoodwillNMI, being asked to present the program’s best practices at the Michigan Center for Rural Health’s statewide conference and at the Street Medicine Institute’s international symposium in London, England.
  • Doctors are becoming trusted partners and housing advocates, helping to connect people experiencing homelessness to quality medical care, alongside Street Outreach workers connecting people to housing resources.
  • The providers are working to remove the stigma around homelessness and advocating for the best practice model of housing first for ending homelessness. 

“Homelessness is a systemic issue the nation faces yet is hyper-localized. For 97 percent of the people we serve, their last home was in the greater Grand Traverse Region,” Hannon said. “Life on the street is brutal and dangerous. You are more likely to be a victim of a crime, have health issues, and have difficulty maintaining sobriety. With few opportunities for proper hygiene and difficulty accessing physical and behavioral health services, it is impossible to be healthy. This partnership is helping to address health issues and is helping build support for the solution: getting people out of the weather and into safe housing with sanitation, water, and a real sense of security.”

 Older couple gardening The three core organizations are often joined by other healthcare representatives, social workers, and community outreach staff during their visits to homeless encampments in the area. Additional expertise and resources include Pine Rest psychiatry residents, law enforcement liaison officers, Northern Lakes Community Mental Health staff, Thomas Judd Care Center staff, Grand Traverse Health Department staff, and others.

Traverse Health Clinic’s Outreach Medical Director Dr. Lynn Swan said since transitioning to the mobile unit for care, the combined teams from the clinic, GoodwillNMI, and Munson Healthcare have provided 445 patient visits and cared for more than 230 individuals at various locations over the past 10 months.

“We hope to decrease the use of the Emergency Department for conditions that can be managed in the outpatient setting by bringing health care to the people,” said Dr. Swan.  “We strive to develop trust and strong relationships through repeated interactions based on compassionate care. We gain legitimacy by doing what we say we’re going to do, coming back, and treating everyone with respect and dignity. We’re thankful to be part of this partnership to break down barriers to the health needs for our people who generally have extremely difficult living conditions and a significantly decreased life expectancy. We hope to help alleviate those risks.”

For those who know someone experiencing homelessness, the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness offers connection to appropriate intervention and resources. Learn more at endhomelessnessnmi.org/help.

“Homelessness is an issue that can be solved. We have the tools we need and amazing people across our community leading our progress. We’re grateful for the support Street Medicine partners are putting behind aligning regional resources to create a community with enough places for everyone to live. Our goal is to ensure everyone can live in a safe and secure home,” Hannon said. “We can make homelessness a rare, brief and one-time experience.”