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Nursing students to aid homeless in new Shelter House

BY ALICIA KRAMME | DECEMBER 09, 2010 7:10 AM

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Heart checkups. Diabetes care. Tending to cuts and scrapes. These small services are sometimes difficult for homeless people to access. But now, Iowa City Shelter House residents can maintain better health without ever stepping outside the new facility.

On Dec. 1, the new Shelter House, 429 Southgate Ave., officially opened a new 70-bed building with a number of rooms meant for such programs as the nurses’ station — which is run by nurse practitioners from the University of Iowa College of Nursing. University students also help the shelter residents improve their literacy skills with a program from the UI.

For medical care, residents can receive services at least once a week from the team of nurses, free of charge. In the spring, undergraduate nursing students will contribute to the service, which opened Dec. 6.

“It’s just an incredible connection with the community,” said Phoebe Trepp, the Shelter House’s director of program development. “A lot of our residents would wait until the [medical] issue gets worse and end up going to the emergency room. It’s really addressing a huge gap for our population.”

Liz Swanson, a UI associate professor of nursing, and husband Alan financially supported building the nurses’ station. Liz Swanson, who put together the team of nurses to run the station, said the first week of the “adventure” is going smoothly.

“Iowa City is very important to us, and we’ve been very fortunate to have our own home,” she said. “We felt there are persons less fortunate than us by no fault of their own … and at least we can ensure that those people are provided the opportunity to maintain their health.”

In addition to providing basic health care, three UI graduate students serve the residents’ creativity.

Every Tuesday, students from the language, literacy, and culture program host a writers’ workshop for Shelter House residents. There, residents read stories, discuss writing prompts, and share things they have written. Attendance is growing, and Matt Gilchrist, the assistant director of the UI Writing Center and a graduate of the Writers’ Workshop, said he hopes residents apply their skills in the practical world.

“The ultimate goal for me is to help them improve their literacy skills,” he said. “To make them feel comfortable writing and communicating so they can take that skill into their life after the workshop is over.”

Resident Charles Kosik has been to every workshop session since the program began, and he is among the eight people who attended this week’s session. He said he tells everyone in the shelter to join the workshop and plans to keep attending even when his time as a resident has ended.

“They’ve helped me shape my writing skills into something that’s enjoyable to read,” Kosik said. “I have a tendency to ramble on, and they’ve helped redirect that.”

UI psychological and quantitative foundations Professor Will Liu offers other sessions for residents as well.

Liu and his students have held counseling services for the Shelter House for years, but the new facility provides more space to offer more services. In his current session, “self-empowerment,” residents address stress management, job readiness, and conflict resolution.

“These services allow them to relate to each other and talk to each other and develop better communication skills,” Liu said.


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