t was a cold and rainy day when the doctor found Alvin on the streets of Oakland, months out of jail, off his psychiatric medications and considering taking his own life.
“I was at my wit’s end. I was tired of getting high. I was tired of not being on my medication, not being normal,” he said.
Alvin had become a dark statistic: one of nearly 3,000 people living unsheltered in Oakland and one of the 45 percent who report problems with psychiatric or emotional conditions.
When psychiatrist Aislinn Bird, M.D., MPH, and her street medicine team discovered Alvin on that gloomy day, he also became another statistic: one of the 14 percent of homeless in San Francisco and Alameda counties who receive mental health services.
Bird is the staff psychiatrist at the LifeLong Medical TRUST Clinic, which provides physical and mental health care for the homeless in downtown Oakland, and the founder of the StreetHealth program, part of Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless. Every weekday morning, a team of doctors and social workers visit homeless encampments, handing out basic necessities like clean socks and granola bars, but also medications to treat depression, anxiety and nightmares from post-traumatic stress disorder. People aren’t always receptive, but the team comes every day offering help, hoping to build enough trust that people will visit the clinic for care.
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