Prescribing Hope through Street Medicine

Donna Abordo

Donna is one of our Street Medicine success stories. Suffering from schizophrenia, she spent 19 years on the streets, between Ala Moana and McCully in a hole she’d dug in the ground next to a bus stop. When our outreach team began in 2011, Donna was one of the first individuals we connected with.  During that time, she couldn’t hold a conversation for more than 2 minutes. She’d walk around in public talking to herself and remained covered in dirt as a way to keep others away and stay safe. Although she presented this way to the public, Donna was never violent or a threat to anyone.

Our approach to addressing Donna’s chronic mental illness and homelessness was a synergistic effort with outreach workers identifying Donna’s most basic needs and motivators while our psychiatrist engaged her with the objective of treatment acceptance. By developing trust and delivering psychiatric medications, we began to see instant results in Donna’s mood. The day she stepped into our car be transported to  IHS for a shower was a huge milestone. From there, small victories, such as her remembering our names, getting her to eat a meal with us, putting on new clothes, and having small conversations reflected the positive clinical signs of progress. Her hallucinations began to decrease and were no longer present after 5 months of treatment. Once that happened, Donna realized she was on the streets and wanted her own home.

After months of consistent relationship-building, a consistent medication regimen, and working to reclaim legal documents in order to apply for housing - Donna successfully moved into  her home after 20 years on the streets, chronically homeless.

She had a hard time acclimating to an independent lifestyle, like many others who’ve been on the streets for decades. However, thanks to a the City’s Housing First program, Partners in Care’s Coordinated Entry System and the persistence of our Street Medicine Team,  people like Donna can be beneficiary of  long-term housing and case management support to ensure she continues to receive care during her transition into housing and rebuilding her life.

While our work with Donna continues, our Street Medicine team is working with 30+ chronic homeless individuals trying to get them access to mental health treatment. Because Donna accepted treatment willingly, our team was able to move her into housing much quicker. Other clients, however, require different intervention strategies such as court ordered treatment and guardianship just to begin treatment with medications. Regardless of the intervention, the goal is to gain them access to treatment and medication to bring healing and recovery into their lives.. Treating chronic mental illness is one of our essential strategies for ending  chronic homelessness.  And Donna’s story underscores the hope that is clearly within reach for so many, no matter how long they have been homeless.

the has also suffered from a reduction in mental health services, including the evaporation of group homes and the the Hawaii State Hospital lacking any capacity to accept any civil commitment patients for the past 15 years

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