Street medicine team fired from volunteer work at Fullerton homeless shelter – why? – Orange County Registration

Michael Sean Wright, left, founder of Wound Walk OC, hands a woman a pack of toiletries and a sandwich near Santiago Creek in Santa Ana on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Tuesday afternoon, March 14, homeless advocate Michael Sean Wright of Wound Walk OC led efforts to stop rainwater flooding in and around a homeless shelter in Fullerton.

About 24 hours later, he was fired.

Wright and Ed Gerber, top executives of the free volunteer health clinic at the shelter, said their group was disbanding because Wright called attention to the impact of rain on the shelter and the plight of the Orange County homeless. The two men said there was a strong sewage smell in the pool of water outside the shelter earlier this week.

Related: Orange County’s homeless cold weather shelter hit by rain

“I think it’s payback,” says Gerber, CEO of the Lestonnac Free Clinic, whose Wound Walk team of volunteer “street medicine,” led by Wright, has set up weekly triage clinics at the shelter.

“We’re blowing the whistle about what’s going on down there,” said Gerber. “No action has been taken by the facility. The people who volunteered should call the city and dig a ditch (to divert the flood waters).”

But the shelter administrator who fired the group of volunteers said Wright misinterpreted what had happened and caused unnecessary panic.

“It’s not an emergency. There’s no need to rile everyone up,” said Tescia Uribe, program chief for PATH, which runs shelters across California, including a temporary cold-weather shelter inside a gymnasium in Independence Park.

Due to the cold and rainy weather, the county opened the facility on February 1 through the end of this month. Contracted to house 90 people, the shelter has housed a total of 116 men and women who seek shelter from 5pm to 7am, when the shelter closes each morning.

In Orange County, the 2022 count reached 5,718 people without a home. Of these, 3,057 do not have a place to live.

According to Wright, the ground was “untenable and dangerous” by the time he arrived around 5pm Tuesday. Water started entering the shelters and pooling outside, forcing people to wade through the smelly liquid to get to the portable outdoor bathrooms and showers, he said. Volunteers rescued one disabled person from a stall and wheeled him indoors through the mud, according to Wright.

No one was evacuating and the situation was under control, Wright said, but it was an urgent matter especially because some people were walking barefoot outside through the water mixed with feces. And many of them were injured, he said.

Wright called the non-emergency police number, and a city worker showed up with sandbags, he said. The same worker then went to get the shovel. By then, Gerber had arrived from his home in Riverside, and both he and city workers began digging ditches to divert the flooded area to allow people to access the bathrooms.

At 4:58 a.m., Wright emailed top county officials and others explaining what was happening, detailing a “strong sewage smell” in the water. He also addressed the overall state of emergency for the homeless in Orange County during the rain and cold weather.

In this week’s interview, Wright — a former emergency medical technician who created the group Wound Walk about seven years ago — repeatedly praised Path employees for their care of the homeless but said they were not trained in how to handle emergencies.

Uribe, from PATH, said he was grateful for the help received that night but said “it’s not an emergency situation for people to be called at that time. That could have been taken care of the next day.

“I think we have different approaches to what an emergency situation is,” Uribe said.

Uribe first heard what was going on from a phone call that woke him up around 4am Wednesday. A shelter superintendent told employees they were concerned and questioned whether they should return to work if the sewage mixed with rainwater.

“If there is dirt, do we go back to work? What are we doing,” said Uribe, employees asking, “Are we going to get sick?”

His employees, he says, don’t smell sewage.

Uribe said he was told by his district contact that a soil test was taken on Wednesday, and it came back negative for faeces. But county spokeswoman Molly Nicholson said no soil tests had been conducted.

Frank Kim, chief executive officer of Orange County, said earlier this week that “it’s sludge, not sewage.” And he described the water damage as “small amounts of water… but that’s not uncommon during periods of heavy rain.” He said the location “does not pose a health threat to the client.”

Those who were at the scene that night, Wright countered, know best what happened.

“Persons who are comfortably in bed, regardless of belief, cannot fight or dismiss the trained professionals who are there,” said Wright.. “We know shit when we smell it.”

Gerber, who described the smell in a video of the evening posted on Wound Walk OC’s Facebook page, said if the area worker didn’t smell sewage the next day, it was because he was “dug a ditch at 10pm to collect water from the canal.” sidewalk. Then it rained all night.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Uribe emailed Wright saying his team had a “very different” perspective on the night.

“I don’t want this site, my participants, or my staff to have to suffer additional clutter or scrutiny. Last night seemed to bring a lot for us,” said Uribe.

About three hours later, and after a phone call between the two, she emailed him again saying the area nurse would be stationed at the shelter on Wednesday — and in the future. He thanks her for the service he provided.

With less than two hours before they were scheduled to meet at the shelter, Wright texted seven volunteers, including a wound care doctor and a nurse practitioner: “We have been cancelled.”

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