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Outreach efforts tend to the homeless

Nov. 18, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Fifty-five-year-old William hadn't seen a doctor in quite some time.

Homeless for the past decade, William, who asked to be identified only by his first name, received medical care for the first time in an estimated 20 years on Saturday, as well as a hot meal and a warm coat.

The venture, to offer free medical care, food, clothing and necessities such as socks, gloves and snacks to the needy, is a joint operation of several community partners, including the Christian Motorcycle Association, Bikers for Christ and, most recently, Marshall Medical Outreach.

"Going to the doctor wasn't something I worried about," William said. "But it's nice to have them come here and know there are people out there who really, truly care."

Marshall Medical Outreach has been providing medical assessments and checking vital signs, blood pressure and blood sugar, among other services, to the city's homeless and needy population at the riverfront one Saturday a month since 2011. The initiative involves Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine students, nursing students and medical residents, along with a faculty physician.

Prior to the medical group's involvement, the Saturday outreach project was designed to offer one very simple gift to the underprivileged, according to coordinator Keith Smith.

"Our primary purpose for the outreach is to share the love of Jesus Christ in a very tangible way," Smith said. "We started out feeding people -- a thermos of coffee and a dozen doughnuts -- in the alleys of Huntington, and we've grown to where we are today, fixing more than 200 eggs, five gallons of gravy and 180 biscuits on a Saturday morning."

Missy Browning, who described herself as a Marshall Medical Outreach mom, volunteers to help with medical files and other tasks while supervising physician Dr. Charles Clements and medical students seeing patients -- as many as 350 patients in the past 18 months.

"A lot of times, this population is hesitant to trust people, and if you don't have an address, you can't get Medicaid, so we come to them, and it's free. We started out helping with the breakfast portion and saw the need for this component," Browning said. "We're able to get a history and physical, offer over-the-counter medicine and refer them somewhere if they need follow-up treatment."

Last month, Browning said the Cabell-Huntington Health Department was on-hand offering free flu shots. This month, Cabell-Huntington Coalition for the Homeless brought coats to give away.

"These folks are often forgotten, but after you've been here several times, you know their names and their stories," said Browning, who added that her "favorite," Billy Ray, who completed an alcohol recovery program two years ago, was recently diagnosed with liver cancer. "You look forward to seeing them. They become family."