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Advocating for the well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness  

By Josh Friesen
For Ignite Magazine
Photos by Bryon DeVore

Danielle Pinn understands how a little hope can go a long way. 

Pinn, a third-year nursing student at the OHSU School of Nursing in Ashland, experienced homelessness for over two years. In that time, she — along with many individuals facing homelessness — witnessed and experienced the shortcomings of the health care system.     

Then, one day, a shred of hope changed her life. 

“I’ve had experiences with nurses who weren’t so great,” Pinn said. “But there was one nurse when I was homeless who showed me an amazing amount of compassion, care, love and support. That’s when I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to go and help people that need it. I want to make a difference.’” 

Pinn, a student member of the OHSU Street Nursing Team in Ashland, works to spark change in the health care system and help educate on how far values like empathy, respect and dignity can go in caring for and building trust within the most vulnerable populations. By practicing trauma-and-violence-informed care, Pinn channels the hope that was demonstrated to her so many years ago.  

The OHSU Street Nursing Team is a grant-funded program that gives nursing students clinical learning opportunities by engaging people without housing in southern Oregon. Made up of nurse educators, nurse practitioners and students, it works to identify needs, coordinates foot soaks and wound care, provides mental health services and advocates for the holistic well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness.  

“There are a lot of misconceptions about the homeless population. Educating people about what’s really going on is helping change minds.”

Danielle Pinn

When Pinn learned about the program her first year of nursing school, she knew that’s where she needed to be. She knew she could help be an active leader in inspiring change. 

“We meet people where they are,” she said. “We’re going to bring the resources to them. We’re going to treat them with respect and dignity. I knew that was really important to me because I’d been in that position. I want to lead by example. I don’t just want to go out there telling everybody what they should be doing. I want to show people what it is to be a great nurse.” 

Pinn’s work on the OHSU Street Nursing Team is one step toward building trust between clinicians and patients experiencing homelessness. Often, this population is overlooked or cast aside by the health care system. Pinn strives for a health care future that treats every patient with the dignity they deserve. 

“If we use trauma-and-violence-informed care and we treat people with respect, they’re going to want to come in. They’re going to want to get seen,” she said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about the homeless population. Educating people about what’s really going on is helping change minds and teaching how to care for them in a compassionate and holistic way.” 

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