Since its start in March of 2000, Seattle's Urban Rest Stop (URS) has offered the homeless a chance to shower, use restroom facilities and wash their clothes in a secure and supportive environment. This April, the Rest Stop opened up their Health Room and now provides basic medical services, preventive care and referrals, all as part of King County's Healthcare for the Homeless program.
Ronni Gilboa noticed a strong need for easily accessible health care in her work as Program Manager at the Urban Rest Stop. She would see patrons with a range of serious medical conditions come in to use the showers or laundry facilities. Diabetes, asthma, colds, allergies, and open sores are just a few examples.
"People who are living under stress, who are living outside... their immune systems are compromised, they are often suffering from sleep deprivation, they're not eating properly, they don't get any rest. They're just ripe for something to come through and hit them," Gilboa says.
Wanting to offer her patrons more than just a band-aid or a referral, Ronni initiated the creation of the Health Room, a service designed specifically to address the unique health needs of people without housing.
Open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., the Health Room at is intended to accommodate individuals with jobs. About 60 percent of URS patrons work at least part-time. There's also a podiatrist on staff who comes in on the fourth Monday of every month. Health Room nurse Thea Vernoy explains the need for foot care.
"Homeless people have difficulty accessing proper shoes. They have to do a lot of walking because they don't always have money for buses. And they have a lot of foot problems because of that, [such as] athlete's foot, calluses."
Vernoy also encourages the use of preventive care for prospective clients. "It's a good opportunity for anybody here to get a blood pressure check even if they don't have anything specific that's bothering them," she says, "and a routine health screening."
Like the rest of Urban Rest Stop's services, access to the Health Room is open to anyone who asks. Though prospective patients need to fill out an application form, the care is free, says Vernoy: "Nobody is turned away because of lack of funds."
Though the Health Room won't be a final destination for all its patients, some of whom will require more specific care, it will act as a reliable place to get referrals. "We see them here, and we want to get them into primary care, into one of our community clinics. This is an entry spot for them," Vernoy says.
Although the laundry and restroom facilities are very busy, the health room is not currently operating at full capacity. Both Ronni and Thea agree that a there are a lot of potential patients out there who aren't getting treated. Remarked Vernoy, "Spread the word, because we can definitely use more clients."