Phoenix Children's Hospital doctors focus on helping homeless teens

PHOENIX - There are thousands of kids of who live on the streets in the Valley and are at risk of being sick, injured or depressed. They desperately need medical treatment and many never see a doctor, which is why Phoenix Children's Hospital has mobilized to see them.

"I was drinking alcohol when I kind of got out of control," Brittany Marshall recalls. "My parents didn't know how to deal with me. It's scary. It's not something you see on TV, the realness of being homeless."

Brittany was young, just 18 years old, and naive to the wicked ways of the world.

"I kept thinking, ‘I am going to get out because something has to be better than this,’" Brittany says.

On a sunny, Tuesday afternoon, Reece Miller is at the helm of a massive van as he weaves his way through traffic.

"Today, we are headed over to a drop-in facility for teens living on the streets," he tells us. "There are a lot of barriers that keep some children from getting what we would consider basic medical care. It was fantastic to know that there was an organization out there to help fill in the gap." 

That organization, a mobile medical clinic fits inside this 38-foot unit on wheels. It was designed for the tens of thousands of kids who live on Valley streets, like Brittany. Today's visit is just a routine check-up. With only 200 square feet the Crews'n Healthmobile makes the most of its limited space.

"We kind of have the doctor’s lounge here, where we use our computer," Dr. Randy Christensen jokes as he points to the corner of the massive van.

The mobile clinic has three exam rooms and the latest medical equipment.

"We have places to draw blood, check vitals," Christensen explains.

And the staff of nurses and doctors have access to a full range of non-narcotic prescriptions on board. For patients like Brittany, everything is free.

"They actually found out I had type 2 diabetes and I didn't know that," she says.

It's not just Brittany's life they're saving, either. Other patients on board the Crews’n Healthmobile are victims of human trafficking and rape.

"We've seen people literally walk on board and we know they're in septic shock, so they're literally dying before your very eyes," Christensen says.

"When you're homeless, there's not a whole lot of options but the clinics, and those have copays," Brittany explains when asked why she would never see a doctor.

"They utilize emergency rooms, they cost a lot of money, that's the sheer fact that when you don't take care of the problems we see, they end up in the emergency room," explains Christensen.

Since 2010, Brittany has visited the Crews’n Healthmobile 23 times. They helped get her sober. But, these doctor visits are about more than just getting medical attention.

"Once you get in, you feel like you're home, there's someone there for you," she explains. "Then, it's almost like you get a mental hug when you leave."

"They look at you and you just treat them with dignity and respect and all of a sudden, that little smile appears and there's a little bit of hope and they believe they can actually do something and achieve something," Christensen says.

Validation and concern for kids who only know a world full of disappointment.

"So many people who should have cared about them, didn't care about them," says Christensen.

That is, until now.

Brittany says since she's been sober, she's been back in school and will graduate at the end of the semester.

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