By Erin Sheridan

Word on the Street, Issue 16

In 2020, Ada County Paramedics began bringing new hires to Interfaith Sanctuary to meet staff, guests, and tour the Cooper Court area to foster better understanding between paramedics, service providers and residents without homes. The partnership has been in full swing ever since, and it’s building the foundation for positive change.

Last month, Ada County Paramedics brought its third class of new hires to the shelter. The paramedics spent an afternoon learning how the emergency shelter operates, why shelter exists, who stays in shelter, and how to interact with people who have experienced trauma through homelessness and may not feel comfortable with first responders.

The program is important not only because it builds understanding between communities, but also for safety reasons. Paramedics that are familiar with the area can respond faster and with better preparation when there’s an emergency.

“I think the main benefit has been allowing new employees to gain a better insight/understanding of some of the different communities they are going to be serving,” Ada County Paramedics Integration Officer Mark Babson said.

Babson, who initiated the partnership, said awareness and understanding are vital aspects of being able to deliver excellent care to patients. Those traits are foundational when it comes to fostering a sense of service and connection to people in the community. “Tours like this offer an opportunity for providers to gain a more holistic understanding and perspective of people and the realities they face,” he said.

“The hope in doing this at the very beginning of their training is that it will allow them to carry that understanding and insight throughout their career.”

During October’s visit, the group spent several hours at Interfaith Sanctuary. They learned how case managers help people navigate a web of social services, respond to crises, and provide trauma-informed care. In Cooper Court, they interacted with people living in cars, tents, and on the street. The paramedics also watched cars speed past Rhodes Park across Americana Boulevard.

“There aren’t any traffic signals here, so it’s dangerous for us,” said a man who stopped his wheelchair to speak with the group. “People speed through all the time not watching for people. Thank you for coming down here.”

Maranda Jay, Interfaith Sanctuary’s shelter co-director, asked each paramedic to practice kindness with unhoused patients. “Exercise understanding, even when it’s difficult. The people here are just people and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” she said.

The partnership “gives us a chance to explain to first responders how we can work together to get our guests served and also shine some light onto our population, so that first responders aren’t coming in with prejudgements, stigmas, or assumptions about who they are and what they are,” Jay said.

“It gives the paramedics the ability to see what our intake process is and what it looks like down here, so they know what to expect when they’re pulling in. And it also gives them the opportunity to get to know us, so that they know to come to us for information, because we know these guests.”

Group members expressed gratitude for the experience. According to Babson, the program has shown Ada County Paramedics that community outreach can make a difference. “The more providers understand the specific experience of people, the better every interaction will hopefully be…for the patient, the provider, and the larger community.”