Visalia’s vocational nursing students join local effort to help the homeless
It is not uncommon for many people to be afraid of those who are homeless. For some, direct contact with those who have little choice but to wander the streets, disheveled and desperate, strikes fear and uneasiness, and is avoided.
But once a year, vocational nursing students on SJVC’s Visalia campus lean directly into that discomfort when they volunteer with Project Homeless Connect. This well-organized effort invites several health and human services agencies and other volunteers to provide vital health, housing, employment counseling and agency services to more than 1,000 homeless over a two-day period at locations in Hanford, Tulare, Visalia and Porterville.
25 SJVC junior and senior vocational nursing students participated in the Tulare and Porterville events. “They were a little leery at first, but very excited,” says Martha Hense, Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) program instructor. “A lot of people don’t understand the homeless, but when you work with them, you start to know them.”
Qualified volunteers performed intake evaluations on attendees then directed them to the medical services area where blood pressure and blood sugar screenings were performed, along with dental services. Many patients were fitted with reading glasses. Volunteers in other areas of expertise provided information and assistance with housing resources, driver’s license renewal, California I.D. replacement information, Veterans’ support services, mental health counseling resources, and employment opportunities. Haircuts were provided on site. There was even a booth dedicated to bicycle repair and another provided veterinary care, as so many homeless have fur companions.
The primary intention was to provide the medical attention and life assistance needed for attendees to become self-sufficient.
A generous meal was provided for all who came for help and left with greater hope for life. “We sat down and ate with them, talked with them and asked them what we could do in the future to be more helpful,” says Martha. Her students learned from this experience in ways a classroom could never provide.
“It was really an eye-opener to see how many people are in need and how much we were able to contribute to people by doing only a few hours at this event,” says Alejandra Solis, who completes her LVN program this July.
SJVC’s vocational nursing students not only provided much needed medical assistance that day, they also brought toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss donated by the Dental Hygiene program on the Visalia campus. They had previously collected and donated to Project Homeless Connect two large sacks full of combs, deodorant, bars of soap, hand sanitizer and shampoo.
Every homeless person who attended left with a bounty of donated items that included bags of food, blankets, sleeping bag, hygiene items and pet supplies, if they had an animal. Attendees were invited to select needed items from a roomful of donated clothing.
“Being a nurse will require us to not only help medically, but also be a guide to point people in the right direction as far as trying to see what resources can contribute to getting them back on their feet,” says Alejandra. “We are advocates for those who can’t or won’t speak up.”
Many students, like Alejandra, wanted to accrue volunteer hours for their membership application to the National Technical Honor Society (NTHS). NTHS provides education scholarships and identifies its members as high-achievers in their career field.
“I hope that NTHS continues to volunteer in events such as this one to set a great example for those who can help in the community,” says Alejandra.
This is the 11th year that Project Homeless Connect has organized and hosted this event. Statistics from last year’s volunteer effort reflected that 70 percent of attendees were homeless or in emergency shelters with 30% at risk of homelessness. 87 percent of attendees were adults, while 13 percent had at least one child with them; 4 percent were children. Approximately 57 percent of attendees were male and 43 percent female.
Project Homeless Connect hopes to impact the dire conditions of the homeless with positive action, resources and information.
“This is our third year as volunteers,” says Martha. “It is such a good feeling when we are doing good for others and the community.”
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