COPH leads USF effort to make life better for Tampa’s unsheltered

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“Public health students have a duty to help. It’s constantly recognizing that we’re not saviors and in situations we’re not changing someone’s whole experience, but if we know we can help make someone’s life a little easier, in any way, than that should be our goal,” said USF College of Public Health MPH candidate Carson Bell.

The COPH recently joined forces with USF Athletics, USF Health’s Tampa Bay Street Medicine (TBSM) and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field East Preliminary to host a Replay Tampa Bay drive and distribution event aimed at assisting the unsheltered population of downtown Tampa, Fla.

Competing teams and participants were encouraged to bring new team apparel for donation at the track. More than 12 bins of apparel were collected through the collaboration.

The donations collected were then distributed on June 22 during one of the TBSM’s street runs.

USF College of Public Health, USF Athletics, USF Health’s Tampa Bay Street Medicine team in downtown Tampa, Fla. (Photo courtesy of USF Health).

USF College of Public Health, USF Athletics, USF Health’s Tampa Bay Street Medicine team in downtown Tampa, Fla. (Photo courtesy of USF Health).

TBSM provides medical care to unsheltered populations through direct outreach on the streets and in shelters. Students work to engage individuals outside of the traditional health care system to assess each unique situation holistically and develop a realistic plan to improve their health. Their bi-weekly street runs occur every other Friday and typically serve an average 30 persons per run.

The initial insight for the collaboration came up after Bell went out on her first street run with USF medical students. She talked to COPH’s Dr. Joe Bohn, visiting assistant professor and director of community engagement, and said that the unsheltered population had a real need for socks and donations.

As a member of the advisory board for TBSM for the last two years, Bohn had been looking for strategic opportunities for public health to work with the team.

“We wanted to create a healthy collaborative with them to bring some public health ideas to the team,” Bell said.

Dr. Joe Bohn and Dr. Andrew Goodrich with students during the Tampa Bay Street Medicine run (Photo courtesy of USF Health).

Dr. Joe Bohn and Dr. Andrew Goodrich with students during the Tampa Bay Street Medicine run (Photo courtesy of USF Health).

Bohn reached out to Hiram Green, community engagement director for USF Health Communications and former USF student athlete, who said that USF Athletics had extra clothing they could contribute due to USF’s title sponsor change this year.

“They were aware that we did have a little surplus and they wanted to know if we could provide that to help these folks,” said Dr. Andrew Goodrich, senior associate director of USF Athletics, “We were incredibly happy to do so.”

Along with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, USF Athletics reached out to all the teams competing in the NCAA Track Regional hosted by USF to bring unused goods and other donations to the competition.

“The donation from USF Athletics morphed into something much bigger when they were having a conference wide track and field competition here at USF,” Bohn said. “They had multiple teams contribute. It resulted in a much larger donation as a result.”

During each street run there are typically two teams that deploy. But a third team deployed with Bohn, Goodrich, two student athletes and the medical school student lead. The team took a collection of socks and some other clothing items and was able to distribute them to some who need it.

“I think it was eye opening for the students who volunteered for the experience and to have that opportunity to reach out and extend a hand to help society,” Bohn said.

In the future Bell hopes that more public health students can participate in a public health team like TBSM to help meet more of the needs that unsheltered populations face.

All donated items that were not distributed during the street run went to the First Presbyterian Church’s clothing pantry so that they can continue to be given out to the unsheltered population for months to come.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health. Video by Tampa Bay Sports Commission.

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