Monday, October 4, 2010

Best Practices to Serve Homeless

Providing care to homeless people is the topic of the sixth annual International Street Medicine Symposium in Los Angeles from October 20-22. Best practices will be shared by health care and social service professionals from dozens of cities in five countries on four continents.

Pittsburgh hosted the first symposium in 2005 as the idea of Jim Withers, founder and medical director of Mercy Health System's Operation Safety Net, which began serving Pittsburgh's homeless in 1992 with street teams going into alleys and under bridges--wherever the homeless were.

Program Director Linda Sheets says Operation Safety Net has served more than 9700 individuals in 68,000 visits. In the past three years, 400 people have been housed. The organization now provides case management and collaborates with other groups to operate a severe weather shelter open to all when the temperature goes below 25 degrees.

Sheets says homeless people willing to go to a shelter may not have required I.D. Shelters fill up and may have limits to the number of nights an individual may stay. Underlying problems with drugs and alcohol or mental illness often need to be addressed before homelessness can be resolved.

Registration for the symposium will be open until it starts. More than 115 doctors, nurses, behavioral health, and social services professionals have registered to date.

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