PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Nursing students and faculty at the Oregon Health & Science University are expanding their street nursing team to further help Southern Oregonians who experience homelessness.

According to a news release, the team currently offers services in Jackson County and expects to broaden its reach to Klamath County by the end of 2023. These efforts are meant to improve how the healthcare industry responds to people without housing.

“The rising cost of living, the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 wildfires have sadly all contributed to increasing homelessness in Southern Oregon,” said Heather C. Voss, project director and associate professor of clinical nursing at OHSU’s School of Nursing Ashland Campus.

“Not having a place to call your own home can lead to new health concerns and worsen pre-existing ones,” Voss said. “At the same time, people who are unsheltered don’t often feel comfortable seeking help from traditional health institutions. The OHSU Street Nursing Team seeks to build trust over time by meeting people wherever they are, week after week. If someone wants help, we offer basic health services and can connect them with other providers for more advanced care.”

The Street Nursing Team began as a class on population health, taught by assistant professor Rachel Richmond. The class explores how people of certain socioeconomic statuses often endure different health issues than the general population.

In 2015, Richmond began organizing foot-soak clinics. These created a safe space for clients to interact with OHSU students and faculty, as well as discuss foot ailments, which are a big issue for the homeless population.

The foot-soak clinics started off as a weekly event in Ashland, but have since increased to up to three times a week both in Ashland and Medford.

Earlier this year, the clinics progressed into the street nursing project in the Ashland and Medford areas. 179 visits were held at different sites from January to June.

Team members provide goods and services such as foot soaks, hygiene supplies and overdose prevention education at each visit. They also facilitate client care through virtual telehealth appointments. Healthcare providers and other patients can also act as advocates during in-person appointments.

The team is projected to coordinate over 1,000 visits with Jackson and Klamath’s unhoused community by the end of 2026, with an expected 300 student participants.

OHSU’s School of Nursing in Ashland and Klamath Falls will have several courses that teach students about unhoused populations and other similar topics.

“I hope this project will help tomorrow’s health care workers see each and every patient as a whole human being who deserves respect and compassion,” project manager Richmond said.

Furthermore, the Ashland and Klamath Falls campuses will fund $660,000 in scholarships for some of the nursing students interested in caring for unhoused patients. Scholarship recipients will be those who have dealt with housing insecurity or come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, in an effort to diversify Oregon’s healthcare industry.

The street nursing team is being financed by a $3.9-million grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Health Resources & Services Administration.