WVU continues student-based outreach for Morgantown unsheltered population

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia University School of Medicine is calling for volunteers to help provide provisions and medical care to the unsheltered homeless in the Morgantown area.

The program is called the Multidisciplinary UnSheltered Homeless Relief Outreach of Morgantown (MUSHROOM), and it aims to bring medical care providers, social workers, and other health professionals together to volunteer to serve the less fortunate in the community. Provisions such as food and water are given to those accepting the service, along with the basic medical care offered by medical professionals an unsheltered homeless person might not see on a regular basis.

“Every other week, we will go out, walk the streets, see who may be homeless and is sleeping out on the streets, and find out what we can do,” said WVU School of Public Health professor Dr. Mike McCawley, who assists in the program.

Volunteers who participate in MUSHROOM go right to areas where the unsheltered homeless are gathered. McCawley stated on WAJR’s Talk of the Town that in their biweekly walks, they go around the edges of rivers and creeks, the back alleys of downtown, and under bridges. If they encounter an unsheltered homeless person, they offer clothing and some provisions and provide any medical attention a person needs.

“We may address wound care; a lot of folks have wounds, even open wounds that could become festering,” said McCawley. “And could lead to something much more serious, much more dangerous, and much more expensive for the public as well,” he said.

The MUSHROOM program is modeled after the “Operation Safety Net” program based out of Pittsburgh. At the WVU School of Medicine, the program has been active for over ten years and includes volunteers that have provided services that have included dental work and social work if necessary. Volunteers who participate include WVU students and local volunteers who choose to go out on a Wednesday night to help any unsheltered homeless person in need.

“When people from the community are coming along, these are no longer just people who are sitting on the street corner asking for a handout,” said McCawley. “These are real people; these are your neighbors,” he said.

McCawley states that the majority of the legwork done for MUSHROOM is done by students at the WVU School of Medicine. Staff are on hand to help with any administrative issues and receive mandated training before they interact with any unsheltered homeless. With a majority of the students volunteering expecting to enter the work force in some level of medical care, MUSHROOM is aimed to not only help the unsheltered homeless population but also give healthcare experience to students.

“We think that makes them a better individual, a better doctor, a better nurse, a better pharmacist, better at whatever they’re doing,” he said.