Street medicine includes health and social services developed specifically to address the unique needs and circumstances of the unsheltered homeless. The fundamental approach of Street Medicine is to engage people experiencing homelessness in their own environment and on their own terms, with the goal of maximally reducing or eliminating barriers to care. The emphasis on unsheltered or “rough sleeper” homeless populations is intentional, as they experience increased morbidity and mortality in comparison to sheltered homeless populations.
Keck School of Medicine (KSOM) of USC Street Medicine recognizes that the unsheltered homeless, due to their preoccupation with survival, face barriers accessing traditional healthcare, especially through standard entry points. This has led to care being brought to the patient in their environment. The moniker of the Street Medicine Institute is to, “Go to the people,” with care being delivered on site in homeless camps and physically on the street. Bearing witness to these unique environmental factors, drug use, and access barriers frequently leads to a change in the care plan and overall health of those we serve.
Perhaps most importantly, Street Medicine aims to break the most difficult barrier, one of trust. It’s important to, “Go to the People,” but it is also important to stay with them. Successful street medicine involves sharing in patients’ suffering by standing in solidarity with them as they attempt to survive the day. This may involve helping to shovel snow after a tent was destroyed in a storm or riding a bus side by side with a patient and enduring the harassment from other passengers together. The aim is to be truly patient centered. This type of relationship and these types of activities are essential for the success of street medicine patients. Proving trustworthiness requires being trustworthy. Without creating trust, nothing else will be successful. KSOM Street Medicine recognizes the value of this bond and maintains a constant presence on the street.