Scott Harpin is the co-faculty advisor for the program and an associate professor of nursing at the CU College of Nursing.
“The CU street medicine program is a grassroots students group that organizes around meeting the medical needs of people experiencing homelessness in our community, specifically rough sleepers and people who have to survive in locations like this, like parks and bikeways, and trails and downtown on the sidewalks," Harpin said.
Nearly 7,000 people are currently unhoused across the state, according to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. After working for the Coalition and then graduating from CU College of Nursing, Kiera Connelly decided to volunteer for the CU Street Medicine Program.
“It’s extremely important for us to be out here because people experiencing homelessness have more co-morbidities and a higher risk for pretty much everything than the the housed population," Connelly explained. "That being said, they also have the most barriers to accessing health care.”
[Related: Extreme weather can be deadly to unhoused people. Here's how you can help.]
Connelly frequently visits hiking trails in the Commerce City area along with other CU Street Medicine volunteers to administer health care for the unhoused. She said before offering any kind of treatment, the team must first build trust with the patients, which can take time.
“Once people get comfortable and open up, we will do blood pressure checks, wound care, blood sugar check," Connelly said. "We also check and treat frost bite, and then make recommendations for them for navigating the health care system.”
Connelly said not only is the goal is to make health care more accessible to those who might need it the most, but also to show the patients that some people are trying to help. “As a nurse, being able to show that 'Someone does care enough to come out here and talk to me about my heath problems and wants me to get better or wants to help me maintain my health' — I think that’s huge.”
Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.
William Peterson is a senior photojournalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.