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UMTV: Clinic for Homeless Teens


More than one and a half million U.S. teenagers are homeless according to a national study. It's the kind of statistic you can see walking down city streets. One group of doctors, nurses and caseworkers doesn't just walk by those young people. They bring care to them, in a big blue van. In 2011, reporter Allysa Adams rode along.

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(Locator: Phoenix, Arizona)

(Team walks toward van) "Getting ready for a big busy day here."

A busy day for this team includes jumping into the driver's seat and guiding the wheels of a big blue RV through the streets of Phoenix, Arizona.

Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director, Crews'n Healthmobile: "I tell everybody that I have the best job in the world. I love coming to work every day and taking care of homeless kids."

The guy behind the wheel of the mobile mash unit is also its medical director.

(Examining patient) "…for her mouth."

Dr. Randy Christensen prefers the tight hallwaysand small exam roomsof the Crews'n Healthmobile over a more traditional clinical setting. Because only here can Dr. Christensen really reach his patients…

"Stomach pains anything else like that?"

…the homeless teenagers that survive on the streets.

Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director, Crews'n Healthmobile: "It just amazes me that we all live in a society that has so many wonderful things. We all have so much to give and yet there are children and teenagers that are sleeping on the streets. And deep down to my core that just feels wrong to me."

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

(Talking to patient) "Where are you staying right now? Are you couch-surfing right now? Are you still on the streets?"

The cases don't always appear too tough to treat.

Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director, Crews'n Healthmobile: "We see a lot of the same things that everybody else goes to the doctor for -so coughs and colds and flus, maybe some asthma, maybea skin infection."

But these patients come with histories that make their medical needs more acute.

Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director, Crews'n Healthmobile: "We find out on top of all of that, there's tragedy behind that, whether that's abuse or neglect, violence, rape, all those terrible, horrible things that you can't even imagine go on. They're all behind that. So we learned 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."

Twenty-two-year-old Cierra grabs a meal while she waits for her turn with the Crews'n Healthmobile.

Cierra Lundberg, Patient, Crews 'N Healthmobile: "I was homeless for 3 years andI worked really hard to get an apartment.I got a job and then I got laid off and I lost my apartment. 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."

She's been coughing a lot lately.

Cierra Lundberg: "This is from black mold. Yeah, the apartment we are staying in has black mold."

So the RV couldn't have come at a better time.

(Cierra and doctor in exam room) "I'm coughing up like green goo. Now that isn't allergic reaction, that is more of like a sick reaction or infectious cause."

The Crews'n Healthmobile is based at the United Methodist Outreach Ministries, or UMOM, New Day Centers. A stand-alone clinic at the family shelter here serves a lot of young kids and their parents. But it's the teens on the street who get missed, unless the RV comes to them.

(Doctor talks to young man) "Is that pretty safe for you? Nobody is out to get you?"

Many of the young adults the crew sees are dealing with huge challenges.

Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director, Crews'n Healthmobile: "Mental health diagnoses are about 3to 4 times that of the general population. Maybe 1 in 10 are hearing voices or having visual hallucinations. Maybe 40 percent have attempted suicide in the last 6 months. Probably 80 percent of them are abusing some substance."

Tough problems that you can't just put a Band-Aid on.

(Young man and nurse) "I'm scared of the needle. Yell as loud as you want, just don't move."

Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director, Crews'n Healthmobile: "We realize that some of the kids are not going to change overnight, so we need to plant the seeds. And we talk to them and we treat them with kindness, respect and dignity and let them make some of the choices. And keep taking them back."

In the 10 years they've been out here, the crew has had a hand in helping a lot of teens get off the streets.

Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director, Crews'n Healthmobile: "There's some in college and we have 20-some people that are in nursing schools, and we have so many people doing some fantastic things."

Faith plays a big role in Dr. Christensen's motivation.

Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director, Crews'n Healthmobile: "I think it goes deep down to your heart, what you feel is right and that little voice that says, 'This is your fellow human being.'"

And with all the issues this team sees here every day&ellipsis;

(Cierra with nurse) "I have no way to call you guys."

…their biggest challenge is changing perceptions outside the mobile unit.

Dr. Randy Christensen, Medical Director, Crews'n Healthmobile: "The truth is that these kids have some horrible stories and they're surviving them. 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.

(Cierra in exam room) "I've been getting dizzy, too. Well, we'll get you better."

Cierra Lundberg: "I like them a lot, they're cool."


The mobile Crews n' Healthmobile and a fixed site clinic operate Monday through Friday. With help from organizations like UMOM, Phoenix Children's Hospital and corporate donations, the wheels keep moving and the teens keep coming.

Dr. Christensen has written a book about his experiences, Ask Me Why It Hurts.

For more information, contact the United Methodist Outreach Ministries at 602-275-7852.

This story was first published on December 13, 2011. It was produced by United Methodist Communications. News media contact is Fran Walsh, at 615-742-5458.