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Doctor driven to help homeless young people


6:00 A.M. ET Dec.14, 2011 | PHOENIX (UMNS)

Dr. Randy Christensen climbed behind the wheel of a big, blue RV and guided it through the streets of Phoenix, giving new meaning to the term “house call.”

“I tell everybody that I have the best job in the world. I love coming to work and taking care of homeless kids,” said Christensen, medical director of Crews ‘n Healthmobile, a mobile unit for homeless teens.

Once parked, Christensen and his team of nurses, caseworkers and medical residents got to work. A few of them hit the streets for places they know homeless young adults hang out to let them know the doctor was in. Most of the teens found their way on their own.

The mobile unit is based at the United Methodist Outreach Ministries New Day Centers, where the staff of the Healthmobile also sees patients at a clinic. However, they cannot reach the teens on the street unless they go mobile.

“I always felt a real strong desire to help those that were homeless. It just amazes me that we all live in a society that has so many wonderful things,” Christensen said. “We all have so much to give, and yet there are children and teenagers … sleeping on the street. And deep down to my core, that just feels wrong to me.”

House calls without a house

Five days a week, the mobile clinic is on the go because of the huge need for this team to make house calls to those without homes.

“How ya doing?” Christensen asked one young man in an exam room as he maneuvered around a nurse trying to check blood pressure. It’s a tight squeeze, but Christensen said he prefers the narrow hallways and small exam rooms of the mobile unit to a more traditional clinical setting.

A young man named Brian comes in for a checkup. He wears a pink bathrobe and complains that his feet hurt.

Many cases, like Brian’s, appear easy to treat.

Dr.  Randy Christensen. Photo courtesy of Allysa Adams.
Dr. Randy Christensen. Photo courtesy of Allysa Adams.
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“We see a lot of the same things that everybody else goes to the doctor for … coughs and colds and flu, maybe some asthma, maybe some skin infections,” Christensen said.

However, these patients sometimes have histories that make their medical needs more acute.

“We find out on top of all of that asthma and skin infections and ear infections and what-not, there’s tragedy. Whether that’s abuse or neglect, violence, rape, all those terrible, horrible things that you can’t even imagine go on,” Christensen said.

“We learn very early that we address those things that they come in for, but we have to be very broad-minded in how we address their holistic health.”

Cierra Lundberg is waiting for her turn with the Crews’n Healthmobile. The 22-year-old has been coughing a lot lately and has not seen a doctor in years.

“I was homeless for three years, and I worked really hard to get an apartment. I got a job, and then I got laid off, and I lost my apartment,” Lundberg said. “I worked so hard to get that, so I’m like super upset. So I’ve been pretty much couch surfing for the last year.”

Christensen examined Lundberg and explained to her that she probably has an infection. While she is here, Lundberg also asks about getting glasses and talks about other issues she faces.

Huge challenges

Many of the young adults the mobile unit staff sees are dealing with huge challenges.

“Mental health diagnoses are about three to four times that of the general population,” Christensen said. “Maybe one in 10 are hearing voices or having visual hallucinations. Maybe 40 percent have attempted suicide in the last six months. Probably 80 percent of them are abusing some substance.”

These are tough problems. Christensen and his team know they will not change everyone overnight. However, in the 10 years it has been out here, the crew has helped many teens get off the streets. Christensen has written about those years in a new book, Ask Me Why It Hurts.

“We have lots of people that now have great stories to tell,” Christensen said. “There’s some in college, and we have 20-some people that are in nursing school, and we have so many people doing some fantastic things.”

With all the issues this team sees every day, their biggest challenge is changing perceptions outside the RV.

“The truth is these kids have some horrible stories, and they’re surviving. They’re out there living in these places that you or I could never hope to survive a couple of nights, much less years,” Christensen said. “So I think my biggest priority and my biggest dream is to continue to educate people on how worthwhile these kids are, how terrible their life has been before, but just how much of success they can have if just given half a chance.”

A chance they get in the big, blue RV.

*Adams is a freelance writer and producer in Phoenix.

News media contact, Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn. (615)-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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  • Anthony Tang 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    Dr. Christensen is such a patient, kind, and compassionate doctor. He was our son's doctor at Phoenix Children's Hospital and when he walked into the room, he always made us feel as if we were the only people on his mind and heart. I am thankful that there are so many children and youth who get to experience his love and care.

    Pastor Anthony & Pastor Katherine Tang
    Las Vegas, NV

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