Bridging the gap between the homeless and health

(L-R) Team Leader, Joel Smeaton, Outreach worker Melanie Brian, and Registered Nurse Katrina Russell

Since March 2020, the Health on The Streets (HoTS) team has been bridging the gap between the homeless and the healthcare system by providing free health assessments to those most in need.

And while the deadline might be some time away, the team hopes to receive more funding which will allow them to continue their work.

The free mobile clinic was launched last year by Coast and Country Primary Care.

Team Leader, Joel Smeaton, Registered Nurse Katrina Russell and Outreach worker Melanie Brian spend their time in the van, visiting hotspots around the Central Coast, and providing free health assessments for the homeless, people with severe and persistent mental illness, or people who simply don’t trust the mainstream health care system.

Joel Smeaton said their main focus is on free clinical intervention.

“We hold regular static hubs at community centres across the coast, and on other days we respond to referrals from community service organisations, such as the Police or Council Rangers, about people who might be sleeping rough or couch surfing or living in the car with their children,” Smeaton said.

“We have partnerships with other community organisations who look after the ongoing case management of our clients.”

Katrina Russell is the HoTS Registered Nurse and the first thing she does when meeting a patient is assess how she can help them.

“I do primary health assessments including dentistry, and physical health assessments,” Russell said.

“From that, I’ll work out whether they need vaccinating or what things I can do to improve their health.

“I do mental health assessments and connect them with GPs, Psychiatrists, and Psychologists.

“We do blood tests as a part of the assessment testing for chronic diseases and infectious diseases and we either treat them from the van, or we refer them onto specialists.”

She said one of the most significant benefits they can provide their clients is trust.

“They come from families with drug abuse, domestic violence, some are coming from well families, although it is a minority, and those patients have a severe mental illness and they have chosen to disassociate themselves from their families,” she said.

“We have treated around 20 people for Hepatitis C.”

With funding set to run out in June 2022, the team hopes they can receive more to help the program continue, and maybe even buy a new van or hire another nurse.

“What could benefit me could be funding for another nurse,” Russell said.

“At times, we have to say no to referrals or delaying referrals and following up with outreach because we just can’t keep up.

“Sometimes we are down at the Peninsula, and we have got several people to see down there, and we have rangers at Wyong calling us.

“Sometimes there are children in tents, and we have to try and choose which one we go to be able to assess, treat and refer them onto other services.”

Despite the unsure future, there is one thing that is certain – the HoTS team is providing precious care and treatment to those who need it most.

“It is very satisfying, and it gives me a lot so joy for the people who have never engaged in services and then to see big improvements in their health,” Russell said.

HoTS visits Mary Mac in Woy Woy every Tuesday between 11.30am and 1.00pm, and Coast Shelter every Thursday between 10am and 1pm, plus every second Monday.

Jacinta Counihan