Feature image via Wikimedia Commons.
The increasing number of homeless people in Beirut streets can be attributed to many reasons, yet the fact remains that these individuals roam the city’s streets without care, safety and medical attention. This can often lead them into a life-threatening downward spiral.
This rising problem prompted the launching of various civil-society initiatives to help the homeless. The most recent one is ‘Street Medicine Beirut’, an initiative that aims to provide quality healthcare to homeless and underserved individuals in the city. Co-founded by four newly graduated medical doctors: Michella Abi Zeid, Maram Hakoum, Radwan Massoud and Samer Abou Arbid, the initiative uses digital tools to improve organize its work. The campaign is maintained in both English and Arabic.
Below, one of the co-founders, Samer Abou Arbid, shares his thought process for developing and carrying out the project, which is another example of successful Arab activism. The questions are ours, while the answers are the organizer’s, edited only for grammar, spelling, and sense. SMEX does not endorse any campaign, but we do encourage open, constructive discussion that advances our shared understanding of how to build the power of citizens in Arab societies.
- What is the purpose of your work and what impact do you wish to achieve?
Street Medicine Beirut is a volunteer-run non-profit non-governmental organization that aims to provide quality healthcare to homeless and underserved individuals living in Beirut. An important concept of street medicine is the “street run”. The run is when volunteers will look for homeless individuals and visit them on a regular basis. We believe it is possible to provide free health care in Lebanon and hope to set an example through our movement. We hope to change the public’s perspective towards the homeless population and create an environment that encompasses a social support system for them.
- What services do you offer to homeless people and how do you follow up?
We provide them with primary health care, such as general assessment of the person’s health and mental well-being. During our street runs, we socialize with the person and establish a friendship. With permission, we also perform simple physical exams (listen to the heart and lungs, measure blood pressure and blood sugar levels). In the case we perceive a need for further investigation, we provide free blood work and necessary imaging as well as free specialized consultations. There will be an electronic medical record for every homeless individual and it will be updated with every follow-up visit.
- How many cases have you helped until now?
In the time being, we are working on a small scale to assess our NGO’s needs and carefully establish a fully functional and sustainable system. We connected with 9 homeless individuals and already helped two homeless men in Mar Mikhael and Hamra.
- Who are your online audiences and what do you want them to do?
We are targeting residents of Beirut to help us identify and locate homeless individuals by reporting to our crowd map. We are also looking for supporters to help us spread the word and donate necessary resources, and for health care professionals (such as medical students, nurses, doctors) to join our NGO.
- What tools did you use and how are you using them?
We used two tools so far: Crowdmap and Facebook. Crowdmap enables us to locate new patients and create a database of the homeless of Beirut. Through Facebook, we aim to be transparent and share all kinds of information, updates, and upcoming events. In the near future, we will create our own website and also use Instagram and Twitter to expand our outreach.
- How are you promoting your work and how can civil society groups help?
We started through word-of-mouth and now we are promoting our movement through social media. We would love to connect with civil society groups that may help us provide the homeless with basic human needs (i.e., nutrition, housing, community involvement, financial resources, work opportunities, capacity building).
- What special technical, graphic design, or content production skills do you need?
At later stages, we will need volunteers with such skills to better implement our campaign. We would also like to use photography and short film in future campaigns.
- Are you working with other organizers, partners or donors?
Street Medicine is an international movement that started in the USA and spread globally. We are in contact with the International Street Medicine Institute for continuous guidance and support. Moreover, we are networking with several local NGOs and foundations working in the health field. We met several who are willing to collaborate with us in different ways, such as providing low-cost lab work and social services and donating medications.
- What challenges does Street Medicine Beirut face?
One of our main challenges is locating homeless or underserved individuals, which is why we created the online Beirut crowd map. We also sometimes have difficulty finding these individuals during our street runs, as they tend to relocate frequently. Another challenge is identifying sustainable sources of support in order to ensure continuity of our services.
- What is a typical day of work for Street Medicine Beirut?
As Street Medicine Beirut is a volunteer-run NGO, all our members have day-time jobs. We regularly meet after work hours then go for street runs at night on a weekly basis.
- What are the profiles of the volunteers in your organization and how do they get involved?
We aim to establish a platform to introduce medical and nursing students to street medicine as a necessary discipline and educational training. We are looking for young and enthusiastic students, nurses, residents, physicians and social workers. Our volunteers should come with a medical, clinical, or public health background.
- Do you have any plans for expanding outside of Beirut?
In the future, we are hoping to reach all homeless people in Lebanon. Until our NGO expands, we will only be focusing on Beirut.