Donating Dignity

This post was written by Katie Pannier, a Patient Navigator and Mobile Medical Unit Coordinator at Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center.

“Is health care a basic human right?” I was asked this question recently at an interview for medical school. As I later reflected on my affirmative answer, I thought about how my role in the Pittsburgh Health Corps fits into that belief.
One of my favorite things about serving in Pittsburgh is the city’s commitment to meeting the basic human rights – clean water, food, shelter, health care, safety, and dignity – for all its citizens. One major way we and our community partners support that mission is by helping to staff the Winter Shelter for anyone who would otherwise be sleeping outside to have a warm mat to sleep on and a meal.

This year is particularly exciting because it is the first year that the shelter has been open every night from November 15 through March 15, regardless of the weather and to all who present, no questions asked. The Winter Shelter is a joint initiative of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and my host site, Pittsburgh Mercy.

At least once a week, myself and the other service members at Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center, Pittsburgh Mercy’s integrated physical and behavioral health care center on the South Side, spend our evening facilitating check-ins and serving dinner at the Winter Shelter. What I’ve loved most about my time there so far is engaging with the community of people experiencing homelessness in Pittsburgh beyond the traditional health care setting. With over 100 men coming every night – 600 men and 100 women total so far this season – and with many cold nights to come, it’s impossible to befriend everyone, but I’ve definitely started to form relationships and been able to recognize and greet people if I run into them outside. It is such a genuine pleasure and privilege to get to know these individuals, their stories, their hopes, and their dreams: to be able to simply listen to and meet someone where they are, as they are. In giving someone dignity, you are validating their humanity, you are giving them the love that every single person deserves.

The Winter Shelter’s benefits go beyond the basic human needs of shelter and food. As the Mobile Medical Unit coordinator and patient navigator for Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center, I am incredibly proud of our team for taking the initiative to bring the Mobile Unit to the Winter Shelter once a week to see patients in a convenient spot at a convenient time. If you’re homeless in Pittsburgh, the Winter Shelter is a place where you can come for warmth and find community, resource engagement, eager volunteers, a sense of safety, and hope. As I write this post, it is 20 degrees and snowing, and I am sure every mat at the Winter Shelter a few miles away is taken. I am grateful to serve my country in a city that gets things done and has its priorities right, and I am looking forward to spending the second half of my service term deepening connections with some of Pittsburgh’s most amazing, and vulnerable, individuals!