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April 2, 2008 > Nursing them back on their feet

Nursing them back on their feet

A group of volunteer nurses work with homeless people at a Fremont shelter.

By Justine Yan

During the winter of 1993, Chrystal Collins started going to churches and putting out cots for people to sleep in. To further her efforts in helping these people, she decided to set up a homeless program.

Sunrise Village had been built that year to provide temporary housing and supportive services for homeless families and individuals, in order to aid them in getting back on their feet.

Now, Collins is coordinating a well-organized, effective nursing program that relies on several certified volunteer nurses to ensure the basic health and welfare of each new Sunrise Village resident.

Registered Nurses (RNs) perform comprehensive, noninvasive checkups. Basic nonprescription medicines are available to residents of the shelter, but if any serious problems or conditions turn up during the checkup, nurses may refer patients to the hospital for help. In addition, patients that do not have up-to-date tuberculosis test results are sent by bus to a clinic in Washington hospital. On Fridays of each week, nurses answer health questions and give clients advice on taking care of themselves.

Sunrise Village is located in the Warm Springs District of Fremont and is proud to house homeless families and single adults in an "efficient and dignified manner." Its numerous services include classes available for drug addicts and alcoholics to help break dependency and free childcare provided on-site by Kidango. The buildings include counseling areas, lounges, play areas, and a children's library.

Though generally from the Tri-City area, clients arrive from as far as Oakland, to benefit from the services provided in Sunrise Village.

"We are always filled," said Collins. "It just seems that word get out that this is a very good place to go."

Still, Collins emphasized that at Sunrise Village, generous help is provided for those who follow strict rules. And when people break the rules, she said, they have to know that there are no second chances.

"[Rules] are not things that we will constantly cater to them," she said. "If a client stumbles into the center, severely drunk, he has violated a part of the contract that was signed."

There is a long list of homeless families waiting for the limited number of family rooms in the shelter, but for single adults, who are more apt to move from shelter to shelter, empty rooms are immediately filled as they become available.

No matter how long the wait, though, each new client will meet the nurses early on in his or her stay. The nurses that have been involved in the program over the years have all enjoyed the experience.

Even with the success of the program, Collins hopes that more nurses will volunteer their services. The program is an especially great outlet for those who are retired and still have a license, she said.

"It's just another form of nursing. It's not working in the hospitals, but there are a lot more things to do in nursing than there used to be."

For more information about the nursing program, and to volunteer, please call Collins at (510) 791-5865.

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