by Devon Unger

Homelessness is a problem in Morgantown. It’s a problem everywhere, but some places have better services to assist those in need. The Multidisciplinary UnSheltered Homeless Relief Outreach Of Morgantown or MUSHROOM is just one example of how a community can help.

The group goes on rounds every other Thursday night around downtown Morgantown passing out clothes and food, but MUSHROOM is unique because they can also help provide basic medical evaluations and care. I was able to go on rounds with the group, and the experience changed a lot of my preconceptions about the homeless.

Homeless people often suffer from any number of health problems. Often their homelessness is a result of a mental illness and treatment s necessary if they are ever going to get off the streets. While MUSHROOM can’t provide medicine or comprehensive psychological treatment, their presence does much more. Dr. Karen Fitzpatrick is one of the physicians who goes on nearly every rounds, and she have been able to develop a personal relationship with many of the clients MUSHROOM serves on a regular basis. Often a homeless individual will avoid treatment and develop a more serious problem which puts them in and out of emergency rooms or clinics more often. Group members told me homeless people are often suspicious of strangers, particularly doctors, but Dr. Fitzpatrick’s work helps to alleviate this anxiety so they can get the treatment they need.

Aside from health issues homeless people also face many challenges associated with living on the streets. One man said he and other homeless had been harassed by Morgantown police, and the officers had even taken some of the sleeping bags the group had been giving out. While I can’t verify the anecdote, the idea that law enforcement and squatters do not get along is certainly not new, and is yet another obstacle these people face. Municipalities want to force them out when the best way to stop the problem is to help the people.

The most important thing I took away from my experience on rounds is, the public perception of homeless people is often misinformed. They are generally not bums, and it is unfair to judge them based on stereotypes. People fall on hard times, and with the current state of the economy it is becoming more common. It is important to remember, they are just try to survive any way they can.

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