In the midst of the chaos, confusion and panic of the past few weeks, it’s heartening to read a good news story about the kindness of the human spirit during times of adversity.
Founded on the Sunshine Coast in July 2018, Sunny Street is a mobile healthcare service for those sleeping rough or doing it tough and it has been such a success, it’s about to be expanded nationally.
From humble beginnings at Maroochydore Neighbourhood Centre, Sunny Street is set to launch in Logan, Ipswich, Gympie, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Townsville.
The co-founders of this incredible service are medical director, Dr Nova Evans and nursing director, Sonia Goodwin and they have, not surprisingly, been run off their feet of late with the COVID-19 virus.
“We are incredibly concerned about the patients we look after, given the complexity of their health issues and their disengagement from the mainstream health system,” says Dr Evans. “They are a higher risk of not only contracting COVID-19, but becoming unwell.
“There are 3.24 million people living below the poverty line in Australia,” she adds. “This includes 774,000 children.
“Some of these Australians are homeless or living in extremely impoverished and overcrowded dwellings, and they experience significant barriers to accessing healthcare.”
Ms Goodwin says, “There are a lot of reasons why people can’t access primary healthcare in traditional medical settings, whether it be transport, feeling overwhelmed by the system or losing hope.
“At Sunny Street, we remove barriers by going to where homeless and vulnerable individuals are.
“You don’t need an appointment or Medicare card, you don’t need to pay, and your consultation doesn’t have a time limit. If patients need further medical care, we make sure they get it.”
Sunny Street runs its mobile outreach health clinics out of community centres, unused office spaces storage rooms and even closets, offering free medical care and a sympathetic ear.
“On the Sunshine Coast, each clinic runs for approximately two-and-a-half hours and during that time, we’ll look after anywhere from six to 20 people. In the last six months, we have had over 6000 conversations and consultations across southeast Queensland.”
In a recent survey of their patients, 92 per cent of respondents said they avoided having to go to hospital because of a Sunny Street clinic and 100 per cent of respondents said they feel like the Sunny Street team listened to them and they were treated with respect.
Sunny Street is a labour of love for both Dr Evans and Ms Goodwin, a project they were driven to create after they both resigned from their jobs with Queensland Health on the same day two years ago.
“The main reason we resigned was we wanted to make an impact in our community and we desperately wanted to help people in need,” says Dr Evans. “We realised we could do more outside the system than in the system. We looked at the data around homelessness and realised the second largest cohort of people experiencing homelessness was children under 12. Sonia and I have eight children and three grandchildren between us, and that sealed the deal for us.
“We thought, we’re a doctor and a nurse – we’ll get a truck and go out to the streets and look after people.”
Dr Evans and Ms Goodwin have donated $50,000 of their own funds towards running Sunny Street, with Dr Evans now planning to sell her home.
“Sonia and I have made massive sacrifices both personally and professionally to start this organisation, but it’s the most rewarding thing we’ve ever done,” says Dr Evans.
“The clinic work is very challenging, very demanding of our hearts, but when we go through tough times, we just focus on the patients.
“It’s a really challenging time for everyone, but at the end of the day, Sunny Street is not about the money. It’s about making sure our patients always know Sunny Street and our volunteers are there for them and genuinely care about them.”
Sunny Street is planning to become Australia’s first nationally coordinated healthcare service for people experiencing homelessness and vulnerability. A GoFundMe campaign is underway to raise $80,000 to enable the service to expand and donations are urgently needed.