Nursing Students’ Homeless Outreach Opens Eyes to Need


Nursing students take a woman's blood pressure during their homeless outreach day.Nursing students cared for many homeless people with high blood pressure, high blood sugar and open foot wounds during a recent outreach event at two West Palm Beach parks.

But one man who complained he was “just not feeling well” needed more medical attention than they could offer. His blood pressure was very high, and his heart rate was very low. He had a blocked artery and a new pacemaker. He was admitted to the hospital because of the malfunctioning pacemaker, Assistant Professor of Nursing Kathy McKinnon.

McKinnon teaches community nursing, which takes students outside the hospital and into clinics, schools and hospice care settings, she said. This was the first outreach day that she organized, inspired by an experience that she and a student had after a nursing clinical last year.

They saw a homeless person in a wheelchair outside the hospital, still wearing a hospital gown with nothing else to put on. They cleaned him up and brought him clothes. McKinnon never saw the man, Billy, again. She tries to make as much difference as she can in the time she has with people so that they don’t lose hope.

“It keeps them motivated to not give up,” McKinnon said.

For the first outreach event, she and her students thought they’d hand out supplies and play games with the homeless people in Currie Park and Jose Marti Park, both within two miles of campus. Instead, McKinnon and her charges were overwhelmed by the amount of medical care needed.

A nursing student distributes supplies and speaks with a man during a homeless outreach event at a West Palm Beach park.At Currie Park, students went person-to-person giving blood pressure screenings because some people were unable to walk to them. They also handed out backpacks and blankets. The nurses-in-training educated people about nutrition, exercise and medication. They referred a few clients with high blood pressure to the Community Health Center of West Palm Beach, where they can get screenings, medication and doctor’s visits.

The students also encountered a homeless mother of five children who was struggling to keep up with their clothing and hygiene needs. She was so grateful for the supplies they gave her. The woman had medical needs as well: her blood sugar was higher than 400, and her feet were swelling. She cried as the students prayed with her.

McKinnon came across another homeless mom with two children, ages 2 and 13, who were living out of her car. McKinnon’s church put them up in a hotel and fixed their car. The family got into a shelter in Martin County.

The day was an eye-opening experience for Katie Humphreys, a nursing student who has participated in medical missions.

“It brought a lot of awareness to me. There’s just as much need here as there is anywhere else,” Humphreys said. “It’s as simple as one walk — just walk there and bring some light into the darkness that’s in our community.”


Top photo: Nursing students take a woman's blood pressure during a homeless outreach day in West Palm Beach.

Bottom photo: A nursing student distributes supplies and speaks with a man during a homeless outreach event at a West Palm Beach park.