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Project HOPE Grows as Need Increases

Medical Care Provided to 100

WHEELING — The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department’s Project HOPE continues to grow and now provides medical outreach to more than 100 homeless people on a regular basis.

To promote awareness of the homeless population’s needs and to raise funds for the program, Project HOPE will hold a Leap Day Winter Walk at 8 a.m. on Feb. 29. The one-mile walk through East Wheeling will last about 20 minutes and will conclude with breakfast at the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling.

Organizers hope to raise $30,000 from the third annual event. The walk generated about $12,000 in 2018 and raised between $25,000 and $26,000 last year, said Crystal Bauer, director of Project HOPE. Leaders gave an update on the program Tuesday at the Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health meeting.

Bauer said Project HOPE’s volunteer medical teams make Friday night rounds during the winter months, starting with stops at outdoor camps and ending with visits to Northwood’s shelter, the Salvation Army’s shelter and Youth Services System’s Winter Freeze Shelter. When the Winter Freeze Shelter closes for the season in March, the weekly rounds will return to a Tuesday night schedule.

“We probably see about 40 or upwards on Friday nights with all different kinds of needs,” said Bauer, who is a registered nurse. “We have seen a lot of wounds, a lot of abscesses and a lot of skin issues.”

On average, about 125 people are living in tents in Wheeling, she said.

“Many of them are going in at night when the Winter Freeze Shelter is open,” she added.

The medical teams treat wounds, offer other health care and make referrals to medical providers for more complex procedures and treatment.

Volunteers also try to help people connect with shelters and housing agencies.

“Our goal is to get people in primary care. … The need is getting bigger,” said Dr. William Mercer, county health officer and founder of Project HOPE.

“We take the sickest out of this population and provide case management,” Bauer added. “For our terminal (patients), we work to get them into hospice and in housing so they don’t die in a homeless shelter.”

Current patients range in age from infants to mid-50s, she said.

Project HOPE teams consist of medical professionals and college students in health-related fields. Certified peer recovery coaches have become “a really great asset to the team,” Bauer said.

“We really try to meet whatever need there is. We have the full gamut of services,” Bauer said. “We refer a lot of clients to Northwood, Wheeling Health Right and Wheeling Hospital’s family medicine program.”

Project HOPE has established medical examination rooms at Northwood’s shelter, the Salvation Army, the Winter Freeze Shelter and Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center. Adding an exam room at the YWCA Wheeling is a goal, she said.

Health department administrator Howard Gamble said the department’s budget has a line item designated for donations, gifts and awards made for Project HOPE’s work. The department covers the program’s administrative costs. The homeless outreach effort has received several grants and gifts from churches, organizations and individuals.

“The community has been very good to Project HOPE,” Gamble said.

The walk’s registration fee is $50 a person. Participants can register online at www.localraces.com/projecthopewheeling.

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