Medical professionals trying to meet health needs of San Francisco's unhoused

Doctors deliver treatment in the trenches

Lyanne Melendez Image
Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Trying to meet the health needs of SF's unhoused
Medical professionals are trying to meet the health needs of San Francisco's unhoused population

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- When it comes to medically treating the unhoused, the unconventional has now become habitual.

"Una cada dia, OK?" Dr. Kathryn Taylor tells one of her patients to take the medication once a day.

Every Friday, a small medical team from the San Francisco Health Department comes to treat patients in this isolated Bayview homeless encampment.

"We tend to see things that we see in the clinic but they are often more severe because they've been unattended for longer. People with more severe mental illnesses, more severe addictions, substance use disorder," explained Dr. Taylor.

"There are lots of people who can't manage being inside even for small amount of time, whose mental illness is so intense that they're too paranoid to come in, they're too weak or too ill to come in," she added as she approaches one of her patients whom she has known for a long time.

"We're drawing some blood and talking about some medication we started," she said. Everything is done outside. Dr. Taylor treats anyone willing to be cared for. It takes trust.

This type of homeless healthcare is an effective way to keep them from ending up in the emergency room.

VIDEO: Counting San Francisco's unhoused -- and why you never ask if they are homeless

ABC7 News followed volunteers as they combed through the streets of San Francisco to find and count the number of people who are unhoused.

After that weekly check up, Julianna Amos spoke to us about being unhoused for the past five years and how she is grateful for the visits by her doctor.

"It means a lot 'cause I don't like going on the buses, long bus rides and sometimes I forget to come in and so it's good that they come out here," expressed Amos.

She told us if this kind of care didn't exist she would probably be dead.

Amos told us she's rather be at this encampment than at an SRO in the Tenderloin.

"We know what's going on out there. We don't want to be stuck in SROs where everybody is doing their drugs and dying," she added.

But those unhoused or living in SROs are closer to the downtown area and have access to a network of outreach teams.

"We staff between 8 and 9 vans a day, so 24-hour days, 365 days a year. Last year in 2023, we responded to just over 11,000 calls," revealed Chief April Sloan of the Community Paramedic Division of the San Francisco Fire Department

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Here's the outcome of their interactions with those struggling on the streets.

Twenty-percent are taken to the hospital, another 25% are transported to a clinic or shelter and the remaining 50% either don't meet the criteria for a psychiatric hold or they decline their services.

Jose Torres of the Homeless Outreach Team, known as HOT says, the process can be frustrating.

"Yes, of course but that's the thing we do best is building trust, building a rapport and being consistent and showing up," said Torres.

Because someone "showed up," is why Joseph Peterson is alive today.

"All I did was kept drinking and using drugs, so therefore after many years of doing that my legs starting having problems, complications with my legs, so they had to amputate my feet," said Peterson.

"Because they kept on checking on me and they were coming up there to see how I was doing and that helped me a lot. I said someone really cares about me, you know," he added.

VIDEO: Unhoused women in San Francisco say they struggle to find safe shelter options

Unhoused women in San Francisco say they struggle to find adequate shelter options, citing safety concerns at co-ed facilities.

Today, Peterson has permanent housing and helps out at the Maria X. Martinez Health Resource Center, a clinic dealing specifically with the unhoused population.

The building opened a little over a year ago.

The clinic is strategically located in the South of Market area and sees between 60 and 70 patients a day.

"They can come in to see the dentist and they find out oh, you have a psychiatrist here and they can see the psychiatrist the same day," explained Joanna Eveland, Chief Medical Officer of the clinic.

They also offer addiction treatment.

We asked Peterson why he volunteers at the clinic.

"Because they took the time to help me and I don't mind helping them back," he said.

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