The Breen School of Nursing offered a new course for undergraduate students this year – titled the Health Policy Intensive (HPI). The course was available for Junior level nursing students. Unlike regular courses, this intensive began just after finals ended, and included adventures around Cleveland and in Washington, D.C.
Comprised of eight students and two faculty members, the group learned what homelessness is like here in Cleveland. The group specifically worked with Bellefaire JCB to discover what homeless youths experience. In addition, the pre-trip portion of the intensive also included learning about life at the Lakeside Men’s Shelter.
The class traveled to Washington, D.C. for a four-day whirlwind trip that covered a wide range of informational activities and meetings. On the first day, the group began the trip with a discussion on public policy and how it relates to homelessness. The group was also able to meet with two legislative aids to discuss some of the public policy issues relating to homelessness. One of the students on the trip, Rachel Jalowiec, said, “I was shocked at how people paid such little attention to homelessness. When we were talking to the congressmen, they were throwing out these ideas, and from what we’d learned, we knew that they would never work.”
The second day of the trip was a tour of Catholic Charities USA in Alexandria, VA, where the class met with a public policy analyst and a lobbyist from Catholic Charities over a lunch meeting. The third day of the trip got more hands-on, with the class taking a tour of the National Institute of Health. There, they met with representatives from the nursing department as well as toured various wards. This gave the students the opportunity to see the nursing end of healthcare for those in difficult situations. In addition, the group met with Brian Carome, one of the leaders of an organization called Street Sense, which puts out a bi-weekly newspaper written by and for homeless people. This organization also helps to give the homeless marketable skills and employment by helping them contract for graphic art and other similar projects.
The final day of the trip was the one that hit the hardest. The group of students went to Christ House, which according to Mary Lind Crowe, one of the faculty members on the trip, is “a men’s only facility that accepts and provides care for homeless people that have chronic and/or debilitating illness once they are discharged from the hospital.”
About the trip to Christ House, Jalowiec said, “That was my favorite part, because it was more emotional than I thought it was going to be. The people were so kind, and they’ve lived hard lives.”
When asked about why it is important for students that are looking to go into healthcare, and especially nursing, to learn about homelessness, Crowe said, “The concept of homelessness is very relevant for nursing – we could encounter these people every day in our job and not realize it unless we pay attention to details, like if the address they give is a homeless shelter. It’s also key to remember that medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy, and that being in our care means that they and/or their families see what their going through as a financial burden.”
Jalowiec said that the HPI experience really changed her perspective on homelessness and healthcare. She stated that she learned that “whether it be mental illness or drug addiction, it’s important for the homeless to get healthcare without being judged. One of the reasons that they end up waiting so long to get healthcare, besides not being able to afford it, is that they are afraid of being judged.” She added that, “there are so many stereotypes with the homeless, and hearing about their pasts really helped us learn not to judge them.”
The HPI trip definitely made a lasting impact on all of those involved. Jalowiec stated that although she’d always wanted to make a difference in the world, “this trip has gotten [me] to look into things more. On our way to Christ House, I was discussing everything with my professors, and we wondered if there were any similar programs in Cleveland. This trip made me want to get my degree and look into working for a program like Christ House after I graduate. This class made me want to make more of a difference.”