AUSTIN, Texas (July 31, 2020) — COVID-19 has made direct outreach more difficult for homeless service providers. But that outreach takes on a new urgency during a pandemic.
Meet the Austin-Travis County EMS team that’s still on the street every day, providing medical care and other basic resources to people experiencing homelessness. They’re the Community Healthy Paramedics (CHPs), and they’re Fiercely Focused on ending homelessness.
Mike Sasser, Amber Price, and Simon Powell-Evans make up the three-person team that works directly with people experiencing homelessness. Sasser covers south Austin, Price works downtown, and Powell-Evans is responsible for north Austin.
“We try and just look at all the basic things that they need and remove all the barriers and deliver front-line services right to the client,” Price said. “Just because you don’t have four walls around you doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve all of the medical, mental health, and social resources that are out there.”
The resources the CHPs provide range from basic wound care and medical evaluations, to housing assessments, to bus passes for medical appointments, to food, water, and tents for people sleeping outside.
“I like to think of us more as an EMS Swiss army knife,” Sasser said, “because there’s a lot of different things that we’re able to do and a lot of different problems that we’re allowed to address.”
“Give it an hour and somebody’s going to ask us to do something we’ve never done before,” Price added.
Both Sasser and Price had been paramedics with the City of Austin for years before moving to the CHP team. Sasser said the the job changes the way he looks at heat and other dangerous weather.
“The people on the side of the road that you see, they’re not just these creatures that live on the side of the road,” he said. “They’re just people, and they have real problems, and those problems have led them into this situation.”
“If somebody has a problem with it, you know what, I have a problem with it, too, and I’m just trying to do something about it,” he added. “I don’t have the answer to do that, so I’m going to do what I can do and what I know I can do and what I’m good at. So I’m going to stick with that, and hopefully that helps somebody somewhere along the way.”