Anderson University nursing students participated in Homeless 4 the Homeless, hosted by Family Promise of Anderson, and got a better understanding of what our homeless population experiences.
Moving past stereotypes and gaining understanding of how individuals find themselves homeless was the aim of a homeless simulation hosted by Family Promise of Anderson.
Students and professors from the Anderson University School of Nursing participated along with members of the local community for the annual Homeless 4 the Homeless simulation September 22 and 23, 2023. Bringing awareness to those who are currently without shelter is a mission of all groups involved. Anderson University School of Nursing faculty members Monica Morehead, Nick Posey and Heidi McCauley headed up this event.
Facing the prospect of a night spent outdoors, students used cardboard, tarps and any items a homeless person might find to improvise a shelter to help them weather the elements.
The experience proved to be a major reality check.
After spending the night outdoors, senior McKenzie Hyder reflected, “At first, all I could think about was being able to get up the next morning and go take a shower so that I could get back to my ‘normal’ activities, but then quickly realized that the homeless population do not get to just wake up one day and go back to having a home and a hot shower whenever they want.”
Food was an issue as well.
Early on the students were fed a meal, but with an important caveat.
“The dinner we got… It was explained that it would have to last a whole day for someone homeless,” said senior Faith Huneycutt. “The thought hurts me that some people must choose not to eat for the day because they cannot afford food. Additionally, the person explained to the group that it is rare for someone who is homeless to go to bed full.”
“Feeling those emotions, being caught in an unrewarding cycle of systems and services, and trying to sleep when you are a little nervous about your surroundings and are a little uncomfortable, has given me greater empathy for those who are experiencing homelessness,” senior Shelby Spencer said.
Huneycutt said, “I feel that I learned the most from this simulation that homelessness is something that can happen to anyone. A person does not have to be on drugs or have mental health problems to not have a home. Many people who are homeless are good at hiding it, and we learned that kids are even better at hiding it.”
Associate Dean of the College of Health Professions and Chief Nursing Administrator Dr. Cynthia Cross says that people aren’t usually homeless out of choice. She points out that, for example, someone could have experienced a job loss from a plant closing or a temporary job ending, with no financial cushion to see them through the crisis. Others still might be working but have no affordable housing options. South Carolina statistically has the highest eviction rate in the nation. In Anderson County alone, more than 5,000-plus men, women and children are homeless.
Cross tells her students “We are probably all just one crisis away from homelessness.”
“Service learning is a great way to teach our students how to be in tune with the people in their communities and understand that not everyone comes from the same place,” Dr. Cross said. “We all have issues that we deal with daily and need understanding from those we interact with. This event helps teach our students how to empathize with their future patients in the hospitals, doctors’ offices, or clinics as they become future nurses.”
Dr. Cross stressed that nursing students’ preparation needs to include being aware if patients are in a homeless situation so they can help them access services they need. Often homelessness works against an individual’s health and wellbeing, especially in the case of ongoing health issues. For example, individuals who are diabetic and depend on insulin that must be refrigerated; or individuals without access to electricity for lifesaving technology such as an oxygen concentrator.
“If you don’t know their living situation, then you don’t know that you need to intervene in order to help them have all of the resources available to them,” Dr. Cross said.
“Because of their poor health and social vulnerability, those who are homeless require specific care. Our School of Nursing students under the direction of Dr. Cindy Cross are learning how to help these persons with needs and how to manage the difficult landscape of homelessness. It is important that health and human services workers be focused on the needs of all persons in our community and how to help find resources based upon their specific needs without bias,” said Anderson University College of Health Professions Dean Dr. Donald Peace. “Healthcare needs are a huge chasm for those who are homeless. Health and behavioral health concerns are common among the homeless. Morbidity rates among this population is also very high in comparison to the general population. Homeless people therefore need complex, multidimensional care and our students in the College of Health Professions are learning how to provide this care and help guide additional social services in an environment where it does not always seem to be apparent.I’m very proud of our students and our faculty for tackling these concerns for those in our community.”
For Spencer, the experience has encouraged her to look past the condition or circumstances and to see the person.
“This practice is important for all nurses, especially Public Health or Community Health nurses. Look them in their eyes and see a worthy image-bearer of Christ,” Spencer said. “Jesus cared for the broken-hearted, the downcast, and the forgotten. He cared for those that society rejected, and we are called—I am called—to do the same.”
Click here for a video recap.
For more information contact the Family Promise of Anderson or go to familypromiseanderson.org.