SANTA ANA, Calif. — On a Wednesday night in Orange County, the Wound Walk street medicine team is set up in Santa Ana. Moses Kamrul is being treated for some abscesses in his arm.
BY ARIEL WESLER SANTA ANA – NOV. 13, 2023
Wound Walk started a little more than six years ago to take pressure off emergency medical services and rooms
The street medicine team treats about 25 to 30 people per night
Even if they don’t treat everyone, they look to build trust by offering sandwiches, socks, or simply casual conversation. They also put each patient into a database
Critics say the team is just putting a bandaid on the large problem of homelessness
“They’re from shooting up methamphetamines. I’m not very good at it, so I’m new to it too,” Kamrul said.
Santa Ana doesn’t have a needle exchange program, so Kamrul, who lives on the streets, says he doesn’t have access to clean needles because he needs an ID.
“When you’re homeless, you don’t really have an ID or nothing because things get stolen all the time,” he said.
But Katherine White, who’s been with Wound Walk for the past few years, says the problem extends beyond drug addiction.
“If you get a small scratch on your arm, but you can’t keep that area clean, you’re going to treat that. You’re going to do whatever care you can with your own hands that you haven’t been able to wash,” White said.
And those small problems can quickly go from bad to much worse. She says the types of wounds they treat rival some from the Civil War.
“We have people losing feet that shouldn’t be losing feet. We have people losing legs that shouldn’t be losing legs, and it really is a matter of access to hygiene and access to medical care,” White said.
Wound Walk started a little more than six years ago to take pressure off emergency medical services and rooms. Michael Sean Wright founded the program as a way to meet the opioid epidemic head-on.
“When I first started, I had a baby bottle and a wagon. We’ve come a little ways,” he said.
The program has received state funding for supplies, and through a partnership with Lestonnac Clinic, the mobile clinic also has a doctor available and offers in-field testing and treatment for conditions including cardiac issues, COVID-19, HIV, and syphilis.
“We’re the only program like this in the country that does this at night. The reason? Because people know where they’re going to be and also, there’s more dignity, more privacy,” Wright said.
He says they see 25 to 30 people per night and even if they don’t treat everyone, they look to build trust by offering sandwiches, socks, or simply casual conversation. They also put each patient into a database.
“We want to take very careful, detailed notes, so if we see the patient again, we can compare it and we’re working to unify our communications within the county system,” Wright said.
And for critics who say the team is just putting a bandaid on the large problem of homelessness, White says that’s the point.
“Do you know what a band-aid gives you time to do? It gives you time to heal,” she said. “If you had a decent parent at all and they put a bandaid on you, usually that came with some love. That’s that reminder that you are human, that we belong to each other, that you have dignity as a human being and you deserve to live a life not in pain.”
As for Kamrul, he said he has quit before.
“But it’s in the head. You keep coming back to it,” he said.
He knows he can return to the folks at Wound Walk without judgment for a bit of healing and hope.
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