Elaine has worked tirelessly her entire life. She owned a coffee shop, was a certified nurse’s assistant and has worked in electrical wiring. “But to be homeless, that was the hardest job I’ve ever done in my life,” she said, holding back tears.
Elaine, 56, became homeless after calling it quits on her violent and abusive relationship. She first started living in her truck with her dog. After each frigid night in the bed of her truck, Elaine would make her way to employment centers, straining to find some work. She did this for eight months. “I couldn’t get a job. I was over at the LDS Employment center every day like clockwork dressing up and trying to survive.”
Elaine is one of over 10,000 in Salt Lake County battling homelessness, fighting to find some normalcy. When she lost her truck, Elaine floated around from homeless shelters to public restrooms – eventually resorting to living on the streets. But earlier this year, Elaine was finally able to acquire her own space via senior citizen housing – and she is starting to feel like things are back to normal.
Fourth Street Clinic is there for people like Elaine every step of the way. She scheduled a mammogram screening, one of the many preventive services Fourth Street provides. After her follow-up appointment last Wednesday – which gets her a gift certificate for going through the entire mammogram process – Elaine strides confidently down the corridor of the clinic: the results were negative. “I was happier for the free gift certificate than I was the results. I already knew I was going to be okay,” Elaine says with a smile.
Salt Lake-based United in Service for Humanity, a non-profit focused on servicing the underserved, is hosting a Day of Unity to serve the homeless community. Offering services such as health education, flu shots, haircuts, hygiene kits and providing winter clothing, the Day of Unity will be held at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall (437 W 200 S) this Saturday, October 22, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can volunteer to help by signing up online.
United in Service for Humanity (USH) is a non-profit community service organization led by Utah residents. Created in August 2009, USH's goals center on alleviating social injustice in local Utah communities by providing services that improve the well-being of the underprivileged.
Tracy sits nervously in the waiting room, fidgeting with the Boys Life magazine she forgot to leave in the lobby. Awaiting results from a biopsy is always terrifying, but for Tracy, today was especially difficult.
“I had a mammogram done in May. They detected something that wasn’t quite right – before I was homeless. I didn’t have the money for follow-up, and then I became homeless.”
Tracy started living on the streets of Salt Lake once the relationship she was in proved too toxic. When homeless, people become too preoccupied with finding a safe place to stay or food to eat – taking health problems off their priority list. Tracy hadn’t seen anyone since her mammogram in May, and it was getting tough to push that out of her mind.
With her family having a long history of cancer – a sister who died of breast cancer, another sister who had a mastectomy and her mother and grandmother who were both diagnosed with different types of cancer – Tracy understood that she was at high-risk. But without the means for returning for a follow-up after her first mammogram, she tried her best to ignore the problem; until she scheduled a visit at Fourth Street Clinic, where she received her biopsy. The results were negative, and she couldn’t feel more relieved.
Now Tracy has gotten a bed at the nearby shelter and landed a job on the Green Team through Wasatch Community Gardens, harvesting lettuce and other food for winter. She works four to five hours a day then heads to women’s classes that teach her life skills such as building a resume and developing her talents.
“Everything’s great. I think Fourth Street is great.”
Over 1,650 patients will receive services thanks to KUER and their Fall Fund Drive! Local public radio station KUER 90.1 in Salt Lake City partnered up with Fourth Street Clinic this week for their pledge drive. Thanks to them, listeners who donated could select their donation gift to go towards Fourth Street Clinic, helping to heal homeless community. Read more about the Fall Fund Drive here.
“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” – Albert Schweitzer
Ron Kehl wakes up every day asking, “what have I done for others?” For 12 years, Ron ran a private dental practice. He spent his days dealing with the administrative aspects of running a business but not his true passion—dentistry. He realized he had to get back to why he studied to be a dentist in the first place. And so he took a position as the in-house dentist for the Fourth Street Clinic. “I saw a need, and I realized that these people are less fortunate not by any choice of their own, and to treat someone who has a need is to see the power of kindness.”
At a remarkable average of 1,000 patients per year, Ron’s passion doesn’t come without its challenges. Unlike a private practice, Ron and his team provide more procedures but have fewer patients, with an average of 12 patient visits per day. The challenges are varied, most patients are grateful and kind, but it’s just that people hate the dentist. “It isn’t easy to be hated when your sole mission is just to help…I guess you just have to give pain to cure pain.”
An unspoken skill set is to listen to the patients, build a relationship, and let the patient explain what is bothering them. Ron instructs his visiting students more about patient relations than dentistry. “With our patients, there are a lot of mental and behavioral issues. Listening, truly listening, makes it easier on the patient and on us.” Furthermore, by the time a patient comes to see Ron, they may have gone months without help. Without insurance, there isn’t any place to go. “By the time they see me, they may have been to the ER, been on antibiotics, and now, there is nothing they can do. We actually solve the problem…in a sense; we are kind of the end game. By avoiding more costly ER visits, we provide a fortune in savings.”
For Ron, the patients he helps, dental care is life-changing. Day-to-day, Ron is treating abscesses, extracting teeth, and fitting dentures. This clinic is not doing standard annual cleanings. Ron’s work focuses on treating patients so that they can benefit from necessities such as proper nutrition, job seeking, and pain relief. These patients aren’t just suffering from mouth pain; there is a social aspect as well. “And think about it,” Ron explains, “if you don’t have your front teeth, the reality is that you likely won’t get the job.” He goes on to illuminate that we take our teeth and dental health for granted. If you are missing teeth, you are likely not able to eat a balanced diet and poor nutrition leads to a host of more serious issues.
Smiling, he adds, “what I like best—the instant gratification. A person comes in and you think a person is angry or upset; they don’t smile or open their mouths. Their identity is compromised by their broken smile, but after we help them, they are so happy.” In his work, Ron believes that life satisfaction comes by helping others. His hope is that kindness will spread, starting with him and the patient, and spilling over from one person to the next.
Food Truck Face-Off Event Details
What: 5 nonprofits are joining together with the Food Truck League for a bit of friendly competition and fun. Each of the nonprofits is selling tickets; each ticket is worth 5 dollars. For each ticket sold, the nonprofit will receive a kickback of $1.25. At the end of the event, the nonprofit that has sold the most tickets will receive a cash prize. Runners-up will also receive smaller cash prizes. The food truck who has received the most tickets will be declared the winner, receive a trophy and bragging rights as the 2016 Food Truck Face-Off Champion.
When: Saturday, May 14th 6 PM – 10 PM
Where: Liberty Park
Who: Fourth Street Clinic, YWCA, Volunteers of America-Utah, CAP Headstart, and Habitat for Humanity. As well as the Food Truck League’s 22+ food trucks! Plus lots of entertainment and beers!
MAKE SURE TO CHOOSE FOURTH STREET CLINIC!
And follow along on Facebook!
When you walk into the on-site pharmacy at Fourth Street Clinic, it feels like walking into a small-town apothecary. Past the pastel-colored walls and big welcome sign is the prescription drop-off window where you are greeted with the biggest smile in town.
It is not often that a pharmacist is awaiting you with such a kindly invite to fill your meds, but Phuong, a staff pharmacist, makes it a priority to help every client feel special. Phuong styles a clean crew cut and a traditional white lab coat. He also doesn’t look a minute older than 30; he is as fit as a fiddle and full of energy. The whole dispensary seems to listen keenly for his frequent jokes, followed by roars of laughter.
Everyone in the Fourth Street Clinic Pharmacy is smiling, and Phuong knows why.
Phuong seems to live his life according to Kundera’s concept of the “lightness of being”; or perhaps it is carpe diem. Whatever motivates this calm, yet joyful, demeanor could be linked to Phuong’s surprising secret talents.
As a young man, Phuong began working as a pharmacist at a private pharmacy, but 5 or 6 years into his career, he felt obliged to help people in some other way. He changed his career, and for 15 years he taught others in the art of taekwondo. Phuong is a taekwondo master, of the Olympic sparring variety, and he trained his students from infancy to mastery. He is the “teacher that teaches for life.”
He poured his heart into teaching until, one day, he “looked under his mattress and couldn’t find a penny.” Although poor, he knew his work for others was not complete. By coincidence, he learned about an opportunity as a volunteer pharmacist at Fourth Street Clinic. It wasn’t volunteering at the clinic that reminded him why he had once raised his right hand to become a pharmacist, but rather an experience from one impressionable day. He was cycling along the Jordan River with the pharmacy director at the time, when they came upon a particularly needy and injured fellow. The pharmacy director aided the man, hugged him, and bestowed on him a deep kindness.
Now, after 6 years as a staff pharmacist, his days are spent filling prescriptions, educating patients about their medications, providing dosage information and keeping track of everything in a database. Every day, the pharmacy fills an average of 275 prescriptions in fewer hours than an average pharmacy. But according to Phuong, those are just pharmacy tasks; his real job is to be a friend. “Every patient, every person, is the best friend I never met. Treat them like you will never see them again.”
When asked to describe himself in one sentence, he replies, “I am a man of contrasts.” And that he is! Ask Phuong about hobbies and you receive a shocking list of talents: portrait painter, sailor, taekwondo and hapkido master, rock climber and watch repairman. Many talents aside, Phuong is special because he treats everyone he meets as special. For him, it is about meeting that patient who really needs help and returns to the pharmacy a new person. Seeing the life-transformation of a person is what he feels makes life worth living. And sometimes, all that is needed for a life transformation is a smile from an unknown friend.
When there’s not a lot to smile about, what do you do? It’s been 20 years since Mary has really smiled, and who could blame her? Broken teeth, a broken smile, and a broken heart has made it hard to smile about anything.
At 32 years old, Mary’s best friend—her brother—committed suicide. That loss, that horrible feeling that you cannot change was much too painful to overcome. “I just took his death really hard and let the pain take over.” When grief and the pain from losing a loved one is left to take over, coping often becomes a challenge. For Mary, the only thing that seemed to help her cope was drugs. She started with cocaine, but it became too expensive. Her life unraveled while she sought asylum from it all by staying high. She lost her house and the trust of everyone around her. “Nobody wanted me around and I couldn’t pay my rent.” Down the rabbit hole she went and before long, Mary was homeless, addicted, and very much alone. Her mother took over the care of her seven children and she was lucky she didn’t lose them.
On the streets, Mary continued to dope up but cocaine was expensive, so she discovered a cheaper alternative that at the time didn’t seem as bad as cocaine—meth. Life on the streets was scary and dangerous. “I’ve been raped, threatened at gun point, been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and have slept in the wrong places…I had to use drugs, or at least I thought I had to use drugs, so that I could stay awake, stay safe. I didn’t want more bad things to happen to me.” The 24-7 game of survival kept her addiction strong and she found herself so lost and without a way to get out.
It wasn’t until January 22, 2014, her 50th birthday, that she took a journey down memory lane. Looking back on the past 20 years, she realized that something had to change. She had to fix herself and her life. “I was 50 years old, full of shame, completely lost, I couldn’t even crack a smile because of the shame and pain…I thought, something has to change.” That same day, she packed up her stuff and headed to Volunteers of America to detox. That day was the defining moment for Mary. She forced herself to complete 2 weeks of detox, and then received outpatient treatment while she stayed at the shelter. Step by step, her life was evolving. As Mary recounted this beyond challenging time, the tears were welling up in her beautiful brown eyes. “I just knew I had to take advantage of all of these services. I did treatment on my own, and I told myself ‘I’m going to do this’.”
Mary did it.
Today, she has housing at Palmer Court and finally can say that she feels safe. With housing and a sober life, Mary’s next step was to fix her broken smile. “Even though I was clean, I just couldn’t smile. I was happy inside, had peace, but I couldn’t smile.”
When she came to Fourth Street Clinic she told Ron and Terri, Fourth Street Clinic’s in-house dentist and dental assistant, how much her teeth and mouth felt like symbols of her shame. She never smiled and she rarely talked. Ron knew that this step was going to be life-changing for Mary. The first appointment was spent building Mary’s missing posterior teeth out of a composite material similar to real teeth. On her second appointment, this same composite material was used to reform the front teeth that had been misused and buzzed down to nothing due to her missing back teeth. It was after this second appointment on March 15th, Mary looked in the mirror and for the first time in 20 years, she smiled and then she couldn’t stop smiling. “I never thought I would get a second chance. I never thought I was worth it. This place always shows me that I am…this place just puts the joy back in my heart…this is better than Christmas!” Ron and Terri instantly realized and observed that with her new smile she regained her confidence and her personality.
20 years later, and with a story that has changed our lives, Mary can tell us with a happy heart and great big smile that now she can “lend a smile to uplift others.” She’s right. All any of us need sometimes is just a smile.