By Zach Taylor, University Relations Student Writer

In coordination with the Chattanooga Community Kitchen (CCK) and with the support of the “Get Healthy Project” grant from Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), more than 80 UTC nursing students and faculty members recently provided a health fair for the city’s homeless community.

With an estimated 4,000 homeless people in the area, it is more likely than not that you will see one of them while walking through downtown Chattanooga. Often, it is impossible to tell if someone if homeless just by looking at them. From unexpected job loss, health issues, or mental illness, the chances of having to suddenly deal with homelessness are far greater than most realize.

For Dr. Miriam Zwitter, nursing professor and head of the grant, one of the most important aspects of the fair was to help form connections to the clients, not as homeless, but as people.

“At least 85% of the homeless population struggles with some form of mental illness. The vast majority of the times, they are not homeless due to any fault of their own, but they were simply dealt a bad hand. If we want to break down the stigma of being homeless, we must move beyond looking at them as second class citizens, but rather as people who just need a helping hand,” said Zwitter.

The Johnson Mental Center provides mental health services and, in conjunction with the grant, provides a wellness clinic once a week for basic checkups.  The health fair featured more comprehensive aid and care for attendees.

Health screenings were given at the fair along with consultations from onsite pharmacists and nutritionists to help point clients in the right direction towards effective preventive care.

Flu shots were given and biometrics done such as blood pressures, pulses, heights and weight, and BMIs were taken.  Clients received individualized care and health coaching information they would have never received.

All clients were provided instruction of effective contraception and women were instructed on how to perform a breast self-exam.

The clinic featured a barber to provide haircuts, as well as a foot clinic to help clean and care for worn and battered feet.

The grant offered a very successful purse, tote, and backpack drive at the School of Nursing and CHEPS, which provided giveaways with toiletries to those attending the fair.  The grand prize was a 30 day bus pass, a huge hit with the clients.

Rachel Nall, a fifth semester nursing student and wellness center assistant through the grant, sees opportunities like the health fair as chances to help raise the health awareness of those in need while also connecting to them.

“These experiences are what I love about nursing. To be able to get out and talk to people while helping them out lets you see what they go through every day. I really think we are making a difference here, and hopefully we can continue to address the needs of our city’s homeless and mentally ill populations,” said Nall.

For more information about Chattanooga Community Kitchen and how you can help out, visit http://www.homelesschattanooga.org/index.html

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