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Homeless health day provides 'a blessing' for many

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It may seem odd to be grateful to get a tooth extracted, but that’s exactly how Jeffrey Bernard felt as he waited for the dentist at a free health fair this week.OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Jeffrey Bernard, an unemployed 59-year-old Portland resident, has a tooth extracted Tuesday at a free dental clinic run by Medical Teams International volunteers, including a retired dentist shown here, who asked to remain anonymous.

Wallace Medical Concern, in partnership with many other organizations, hosted its first Homeless Health Day for Gresham-area low-income and homeless individuals on Jan. 19 at the Human Solutions Winter Family Shelter, 16131 E. Burnside St.

“I went to Human Solutions to get help with an electric bill and found out about the health fair,” Bernard said. “I lost my job of 15 years. I’ve never had to resort to anything like this. I’m a victim of circumstance.”

Bernard said he “felt blessed” that services were in place to help.

Medical and dental professionals from Kaiser Permanente, Medical Teams International, Northwest Mobile Hygiene, Project Access Now, Hands of Favor and other organizations volunteered their time to provide medical and dental services along with haircuts and health screenings to hundreds in need like Bernard.

In total, more than 180 people received a hot meal and toiletries, 18 medical patients were seen, 18 showers were taken, 30 people received haircuts, 18 people received dental work and 20 families got professional photos taken.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Courtney Kucera, a volunteer with Wallace Medical Concerns, enjoys a face-painting session Tuesday at a free clinic put on at the Human Solutions Winter Family Shelter.“It’s good to be able to serve the neighborhood where we live,” said Charles Hodge, director of the shelter.

This year Wallace Medical Concern received a federal grant to provide healthcare for the homeless and part of the event was to learn about the unique needs of people experiencing homelessness.

Sherry Archer, a nursing instructor at the Oregon Health & Science University, oversaw her students doing health screenings to check things like blood sugar and blood pressure.

“This event is kicking off the effort to reach out to the homeless community,” Archer said.

This event was much about learning as it was about helping. For example, Archer said, doctors can’t prescribe medicine that needs to be refrigerated if you’re treating a patient who doesn’t have a home.

One woman, Cynthia, watched her 3-year-old Dennise get her face painted as butterfly as she waited to be called to see the dentist.

She used to have health insurance through her job but has stopped working, fallen behind on bills and become depressed.

“I’m trying work,” Cynthia said. “I was goign to school for accounting.”

Another mom, Ingrid, also entertained a toddler and newborn while waiting for dental work. Her four children are covered by health insurance but said cost prevents her from getting coverage.

She said coming to the health clinic was a “very big step.”

“It’s an important thing to do for your health,” she said.