Upstate students’ effort helps homeless during pandemic
A group of Upstate Medical University students has taken on the task of assisting the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Summer Carbone, a medical student at Upstate Medical University College of Medicine, with materials gathered for distribution to homeless individuals to help them cope during the COVID-19 outbreak.
When COVID-19 arrived in the region, medical student Summer Carbone felt the need to “do something,” she said. The Utica native who hopes to be a surgeon one day, recognized that the homeless had no way to get hand sanitizer, which health officials were urging people to use. After researching effective methods, she decided to make handmade hand sanitizer.
Helping the homeless in Central New York is not new to Upstate. David Lehman, MD, distinguished service professor of medicine at Upstate, has been leading House Calls for the Homeless since 2018. Its mission is to provide medical, psychiatric and addiction services for the region’s homeless men and women where they live.
Stephen Lucas, a student at the College of Medicine, has gone out with Lehman to see patients several times and led the creation of a “street medicine” student interest group at Upstate. When COVID-19 reached Central New York, Lucas was looking for ways to help the homeless during the pandemic and hit upon the idea of distributing information on symptoms and prevention.
Then he heard about work that Carbone was doing. They combined their efforts. “He had all the contacts in the homeless community,” Carbone said, noting the importance of finding groups and organizations able to distribute materials to the homeless.
In late April, they assembled more than 160 bags, each containing hand sanitizer, a donated homemade mask, socks and a snack item, such as a granola bar or a package of fruit snacks. They have received more that 400 donated masks along with some $2,000 in donations to help cover the project costs.
Carbone expects they will create more than 1,000 bags for distribution in Onondaga, Oneida and Monroe counties.
Why socks? “Socks are kind of like gold to this population,” Lucas explained. When he’s been out with Lehman, he says patients often asked for socks.
Like Lucas, Carbone has reached out to help the homeless before the pandemic prompted this project. Late last year she attended a lecture about health disparities, including a lack of feminine products for homeless women. “It got me thinking, ‘I’ve got to do something about this’.” So she organized an effort that drew such broad support she was able to distribute more than 5,000 individual products.
With no televisions, no phones and no internet access, the homeless have a near total lack of access to information about the COVID-19 pandemic, said Lucas. Along with the other materials going into the bags for the homeless, will be information sheets provided by Upstate to give recipients information to help them stay safe and well.
Donations of all sorts are being accepted for the project. Those interested in getting involved can email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Caption: Summer Carbone, a medical student at Upstate Medical University College of Medicine, with materials gathered for distribution to homeless individuals to help them cope during the COVID-19 outbreak.