A white Jeep slowly bumps along a dirt path behind an inconspicuous auto shop on Columbus’ South Side. Inside is the Mount Carmel Street Medicine team. The driver, project specialist Jason King, rattles through the greenery behind the shop and parks in front of a homeless camp.
To the unfamiliar eye, the camp appears to be undeveloped land. But behind some trees, a rainbow of tents signals that people live here.
Columbus is sprinkled with homeless camps tucked under bridges and deep in the woods. People there often can’t afford medical care, so minor problems quickly become major issues.
The team – which also consists of outreach medical director Jack O’Handley (who they call Dr. O) and registered nurse Jackie White – crunches through some fallen tree branches and sticks to get to the camp’s entrance, an old bed sheet hung up between two trees.
“Good morning, Mount Carmel! Good morning, Mount Carmel!” the team calls out.
The Street Medicine team is here to give free medical care to the homeless camp residents.
During this visit, the team runs into a familiar face: Tuiral Graves, who has lived in this camp for a few years.
“Me, I’ve been out here for a little while now. So I’m trying to skate my way, you know?” Graves says.
He appreciates that the team comes through regularly and makes sure he has hygiene products. White greets Graves with a hug.
“Is there anything we can do for you?” White asks.
“No,” Graves says. “I’m alright.”
“Socks? Everything good? Hygiene?” White continues.
“Yeah, I’ve got some socks,” Graves smiles.
He points out someone else a few feet away who might need help, and the team follows his lead.
O’Handley says the team is always discovering new camps – along rivers, behind stores, under bridges.
“Places that people aren’t aware of. They don’t see most of our patients,” O’Handley says. “They’re invisible to the community for the most part.”
Mount Carmel’s outreach programs began visiting camps in 2010. Each year, the Mount Carmel Foundation provides $1.29 million to Street Medicine, which includes the Mobile Medical Coach and visits to the homeless camps.
Last year, they served more than 6,300 people. O’Handley and White go out once a week, and homeless advocate Ben Sears goes out daily.
The team carries a large, bright orange backpack with medical supplies like painkillers, anti-fungal creams and blood pressure cuffs. White says heroin is a growing problem.
“We do give out Narcan kits,” White says. “People in the camps are very willing to use it on their campmates, so that’s been a real blessing to have those kits available.”
Bradley Mills just met the team for the first time during this outing, though he’s lived in the camp for about a year.
“I wrecked my car, lost my job, it went bad from there,” Mills laments.
King measures Mills’ heart rate while White asks how Mills is doing. His tooth is driving him crazy. O’Handley has a fix for the dental abscess.
“This is the antibiotic amoxicillin. Three times a day. If you miss a dose, just take two the next time,” O’Handley explains to Mills. “Then Naproxen. It’s 500 milligrams.”
“Anti-inflammatory, swelling, isn’t it?” Mills asks.
“Yes,” O’Handley answers. “Twice a day with food if you can.”
After taking down Mills’ information and scheduling a follow-up appointment, the team leaves.
“I appreciate you guys. Thank you,” Mills calls out. “Sure can’t hurt.”
This two-hour trip led to just two interactions with patients. Some people refused to open their tents when the team called out. Others said they already have medical care, but appreciate the offer.
O’Handley says it’s usually busier, but you never know what you’ll get.
“To me, it’s sort of God’s work,” O’Handley says. “He said, ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ Like I said, we try to go to those most in need.”
The team is always on the lookout for new camps where people need help.