Learning from the vulnerable
Seattle University’s College of Nursing is addressing concerns of the homeless who are medically fragile.
The initiative focuses on King County with an emphasis on Lake City, eight miles northeast of downtown Seattle. At its heart is Natalie Sloan, a second-year student in the Advanced Practice Nursing Immersion program. She says her commitment to social justice inspired her to want to be part of the initiative.
“I see myself as more of a resource,” she says.
Sloan, originally from Battle Ground, Wash., joined the Peace Corps after she graduated from Washington State University-Vancouver with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She spent two years doing community health work in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania before weighing her options and deciding to study leadership and community health at SU.
It was SU undergraduate nursing students who discovered God’s Lil Acre, a homeless drop-in center eight miles northeast of downtown Seattle. Soon, a collaborative partnership developed in Lake City where the Seattle Mennonite Church had created a community ministry to respond to neighborhood homelessness.
Nursing students began to spend time at God’s Lil Acre taking blood pressure, dressing wounds and discussing good health. It wasn’t long before they realized Band-Aids wouldn’t do much to address the health needs of the homeless, however.
Obesity, congestive heart failure, chronic hypertension and diabetes are some of the common health problems. Threats, intimidation and traumas greatly challenge the survival of this vulnerable population. Statistically, the homeless die 30 years younger than the rest of the population—in their 50s rather than 80s.
As a graduate research assistant, Sloan is now interviewing those who come through the drop-in center to determine how a new respite care center might best serve them. She also assists with community assessments to help develop what will become a resource for the homeless who are recuperating from major illnesses and surgeries.
Sloan hopes to better understand where homeless individuals go when they’re discharged from hospitals and where they currently get care. She’s also looking for the reasons the homeless may have turned down opportunities for respite care after hospitalization.
“God’s Lil Acre is a safe and respectful place to talk to someone as a human being,” says Sloan.
She says she is grateful for the openness of this population to share unique and traumatic stories.
“They’ve taught me there is still a great deal of stigma and misinformation toward homelessness by the general public,” she says. “I’ve learned the power of listening. It’s profound how people hearing themselves talk out loud can be life changing.
“Nobody starts out life thinking this is where they’ll end up. I want to learn how to use my voice to share their stories. How do you tell the stories of others so they’re heard in a fair way? That’s what I’m here to learn.”