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Ready for her checkup. (Photo: Dr. Randal Christensen)
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EVERYDAY STORIES

Bug Infested
Not a typical earache

A young girl came to the clinic with a bad, persistent ear ache. It wasn’t an infection – there was a small, dead cockroach in her ear. Because homeless children are sleeping on floors in run-down or abandoned buildings where cockroaches thrive, they are vulnerable to this kind of invasion which most of us would never dream of.  Her spirit was amazing though. She didn’t seem at all upset by what I found, and gave me this big huge hug for making her feel better. Many of these kids have so little, are subjected to so much, and yet they are so grateful for the care that we provide.

In so much pain
Working together

I’m glad we found a solution for this one. An abscessed tooth sent an uninsured young man to the ER, but the dental team serving homeless patients wouldn’t pull his tooth because of other serious medical issues that could lead to complications.  Fortunately, we know a lot of generous doctors in the community. A specialist agreed to see the patient and join us in covering the costs for the lab work and medication he will need.  Now he can get that painful tooth pulled.

OTHER PROGRAMS

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Phoenix

“Arizona heat is an all-encompassing thing.  It surrounds you like an inescapable blanket, sometimes so unbearable it is hard to breathe.”  That’s how Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director of the Phoenix Children’s Health Project, describes the harsh climate many of his homeless patients must cope with.

KIDS ON THE STREET

The mobile medical program he has run for 11 years in conjunction with Phoenix Children’s Hospital treats runaway, “thrown away,” and at-risk young people under the age of 24.  Almost all of them are trying to survive on the arid streets of Phoenix and Tempe, in homeless shelters, in group homes, or periodically “couch surfing” with friends or relatives.  In addition to this mobile unit, the medical staff manage the UMOM Wellness Center open several days a week on the campus of UMOM New Day Family Shelter.

Young people often visit the 38-foot mobile medical clinic, dubbed the “Crews’n Healthmobile,” with urgent medical symptoms. A painful skin or ear infection, an asthma attack, or a sexually transmitted disease might be their immediate concern, but often there are layers of additional health problems. Patiently building trust, Dr. Christensen encourages them to return for ongoing care. Each time young people come back, the team at the Phoenix Children’s Health Project has more opportunities to help, providing not just medical services, but also a support system that makes sure vulnerable young people receive access to the services, education, and referrals they need.

NOT GIVING UP

Many of these kids have been abused and/or abandoned; they suffer from mental health challenges at three to four times average rates; many have attempted suicide or struggle with substance abuse.   But Dr. Christensen isn’t about to give up on them.  Over the years, he and his team have learned that treating young people with kindness and dignity, returning week after week to park the clinic in dusty lots and on abandoned street corners, can help lead young people to a better life.

TURNING LIVES AROUND

Some kids just disappear, but hundreds of the program’s former patients have found permanent shelter.  Many have jobs, some are even in college.  Dr. Christensen knows persistence can help his patients.  His biggest challenge these days, he says, is often to convince others “how worthwhile these kids are-how terrible their lives have been before-but how much success they can have if given half a chance.”

Home Institution/Affiliation 
Phoenix Children's Hospital, Phoenix, AZ
Available services 
  • Comprehensive physical examinations and immunizations;
  • Management of acute and chronic illnesses;
  • GYN care and referrals;
  • Nutrition counseling;
  • Injury Prevention;
  • Health education;
  • Vision, hearing, and developmental screenings;
  • Mental Heatlh screening and referrals;
  • HIV/STD testing and counseling;
  • Substance abuse assessment and referrals; and
  • Subspeciality & community referrals.
Program Fact sheet