Rhode Island Medical Navigator Partnership, a program created by Warren Alpert Medical School students, partnered with House of Hope, a Rhode Island-based organization aimed at supporting individuals experiencing homelessness, to host the annual Burnside Park Health Fair Oct. 15.
The health fair aims to provide free medical care, food, hygiene services and other resources to Providence community members, especially those experiencing homelessness, according to Makena Mette MD’25, who helped organize the fair.
As part of the event, RIMNP partnered with Project Weber/RENEW, a peer-led harm reduction and recovery support program, to offer hepatitis tests, HIV tests, flu vaccines and naloxone kits to help prevent opioid overdose, according to Mette. Other services included stations to measure blood pressure and blood sugar.
Volunteers also worked to connect community members with legal support to obtain state IDs and free bus passes. “The goal is to provide a comprehensive approach to health screenings,” Mette said.
House of Hope brought a portable shower unit staffed by a registered nurse as part of its “Shower to Empower” program to offer free showers, haircuts and hygiene services, said Sara Melucci, director of outreach at House of Hope.
A foot clinic was included as part of Shower to Empower, where people could have their feet cleaned and dried. Dry socks were also provided.
“It’s a very dignifying thing to be able to take a shower,” Mette said. “To be clean is so important, and it’s something a lot of us take for granted.”
No appointments were required to participate in the fair, and services were available to all who attended. “The goal was to create additional open space with no barriers to (healthcare),” Melucci said.
This year, an estimated 150 to 200 people attended, according to Mette. To run the fair, “there was a team of around 60 volunteers, which were mostly medical students in RIMNP but also included some Program in Liberal Medical Education Brown undergraduates.”
In January 2022, more than 1,300 people experienced homelessness, according to Juan Espinoza, communication and development manager at the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness. “The current numbers are likely even higher,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we see (that) a lot of (homeless) people’s access to medical care is through emergency rooms,” said Margaux Morisseau, deputy director at RICEH.
Morisseau added that many people experiencing homelessness live in tents, which cannot be locked up and left unattended while receiving medical care. “When all (their) worldly belongings are in that tent, … people may decide to forego appointments to protect their belongings,” she said.
Providing care to people where they felt most comfortable was an intentional objective of the fair’s organizers, according to Melucci. “Individuals are distrustful of our healthcare systems,” she said. “Part of our goal is to go out and meet people where they are — on their home turf.”
“We recognize (that) there are a lot of structural barriers in accessing the healthcare system,” Melucci added. “We know (the fair) won’t resolve all issues, but we want to build connections that will endure.”
Jared is a Senior Staff Writer for Science and Research. He is a senior from Albuquerque, New Mexico studying physiology and biotechnology. Outside of The Herald he likes to fish, ride bikes and research the role of metals in human health and disease.