Medical Homeless Aid | On the Streets with the Caritas Medical Van
We all get sick once in a while, get injured or need medical help for other reasons. But what if going to the local doctor is not possible because you don’t have health insurance? Or if you don’t dare to go to a doctor because you are homeless and feel that you are not entitled to do so? Exactly these people are assisted by the Caritas medical van in Berlin and thus provide important medical homeless aid.
We were on the road with the team on one of their tours and give you an insight into their important work. We also show you how you can support them – maybe even on a regular basis.
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What is the Caritas Medical Van?
Since 1995, the Caritas Medical Van has been on the streets of Berlin, treating people who cannot or do not want to go to a regular doctor due to homelessness or lack of health insurance. For them, the Caritas’ offer is often the only way to receive medical care. And that is important, since living conditions on the streets – especially in winter – are very tough and cause illness. Skin diseases, wound infections or blood poisoning, which can be treated well for people within the health system, are life-threatening on the streets.
The doctor’s vehicle seeks out people where they actually are
For this reason, the medical van regularly tours the city and visits people where they might be: at train stops, in front of food distributions, or at emergency overnight shelters. Here, the team, which consists of a social worker, a nurse and a volunteer doctor on each tour, sets up the mobile treatment room and provides basic medical care. As a result, they form an important part of the mobile medical homeless aid. The patients’ origin or identification papers do not matter; everyone receives treatment. In order to monitor the patient’s health, however, treatments are documented – provided the person agrees to this – so that the patient’s medical history and previous treatments can be traced.
What does the Caritas Medical Van offer Homeless people?
The medical van is part of a larger health service offered by the Caritas. This includes mobile medical homeless aid as well as a permanent ambulance at the Zoologischer Garten, which is open daily and offers a special gynecological consultation for women (including breakfast) on every second Thursday of the month. In addition, there is a special medical apartment where homeless people are treated by a team of nurses and assistants as well as social workers. Here they are given time and rest to recover. There are a total of 20 places in the medical apartment, five of which are reserved for patients with palliative care needs. This means that seriously ill people are also treated and accompanied here.
Network of medical homeless aid
All of Caritas’ medical homless aids are interlinked, so that patients can be sent to the right place if necessary. In the case of serious illnesses, they are also accompanied to a regular hospital. The social workers on site also provide support in the form of advice on further support services, everyday worries, or dealing with authorities and applications.
The medical van is the lowest-threshold service offered by the Caritas, as it visits people directly in their usual environment – unbureaucratically and, if desired, anonymously. In this way, it improves the general state of health and the living situation of people on the street. By regularly touring through the same places, the medical van team also creates trust, structure and a fixed point of contact for their patients.
Our expirience on tour with the Medical Van
Our tour started in Wedding, where we met the medical van team: a social worker, a nurse (both permanently employed) and a doctor who has been volunteering on tours for many years. To kick things off, we were first given a small “guided tour” of the medical van, which is equipped with all the necessary utensils for a mobile treatment.
Three points of contact in one day
Our tour took us to three different places that day. First, we went to Moabit and visited several people who regularly spend the day here. The team was very familiar with the people (most of them have known them for a long time), inquired about their general condition and occasionally treated small wounds or examined skin problems. Among a group of people in a camp, we met a young woman who had recently found out that she was pregnant. In such cases, the social worker told us, that in cooperation with the social welfare office, possibilities are sought to accommodate the woman in a permanent apartment with support, if necessary.
Our second stop took us to Gesundbrunnen, where a group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and languages had set up a camp. Here, again, a close relationship of trust with the team was immediately noticeable, and the group reported that they had been attacked and robbed by strangers a few nights earlier. Unfortunately, such incidents are not uncommon. The social worker of the medical homeless aid promised to support them in getting their papers back.
Not everything can be treated by the Medical Van
In addition to a few minor injuries, the mobile medical team also examined a broken rib and its healing progress. At this point, it was clear that treatments beyond a certain point can no longer be provided by a mobile medical homeless aid. The same was true for a person on site who complained of toothache. In such cases, the team has to refer them to hospitals or specialists who also treat people without health insurance. Smaller procedures, such as dispensing ointments, basic medication or prescriptions, on the other hand, can be carried out by the doctor on site.
Our last stop was at a food distribution in Pankow. Here, patients used the mobile consultation hour as an opportunity to get their hand injury or skin problems examined. Here, as well, the doctor, nurse and social worker listened attentively to the people and treated the complaints with a great deal of attention and care.
An impressive work
Overall, we were impressed by the calmness and the attention that the medical van team gives the homeless people. Even though dealing with some people on the street is not always easy, their gratitude towards the team is clearly noticeable. A really important and remarkable work that the team performs every week.
Here’s how you can support the Medical Homeless Aid!
By volunteering within the team
Due to a grant from the Senate, Caritas medical homeless aid is able to provide a handful of permanent positions. These include social workers and some nurses. Volunteer doctors are always needed, as well as additional nurses. If you would like to support the team regularly in the medical van, in the ambulance or in the medical apartment, you can simply contact the team via vostel.de.
In addition to the important volunteer work, the team also welcomes donations in form of medication (packaged and still durable) as well as clothing. However, the need for both should be clarified before handing them over. In addition, the organization is also happy about monetary donations, from which material such as sleeping bags can be purchased for the people on the streets.
We hope you enjoy your volunteer at the medical homeless assistance!
Your vostel.de team.