Project Description

Remaining positive, no matter the circumstance

How one woman kept smiling through the hardest moments

By James Jarrard

Stories from the Street gives individuals who have some connection to Fourth Street Clinic a chance to share their story. And they’re all different. I still haven’t grasped what homelessness can do to an individual, but I know it’s a ruthless and constant attack on someone’s wellbeing – mentally, physically, spiritually.

These stories show a moment in time. It’s a small portrait of homelessness, an individual’s struggle to improve; sometimes their progress toward stability moves forward, sometimes back.

But in September I had a chance to sit down with Andrea, a patient of Fourth Street Clinic. Drea for short. She had been living at The Road Home for 18 months.

“This is how I became homeless,” Drea says matter-of-factly as she looks down at her lap. Excruciating pain in her hip and constant dislocations bound her to a wheelchair. She used to be a waitress; the kind that always looked happy to see you. She lost her job when the pain became unbearable. Bone on bone. Getting her wheelchair gave her mobility, albeit limited and stagnant.

“I can’t go anywhere in the wintertime unless someone pushes me. Last Christmas, it took me 45 minutes to cross the street,” Drea began. Snow fell fast onto Rio Grande Street, the road dividing the food kitchen and homeless shelter in downtown Salt Lake City. Three strangers helped push and pull her across the icy road, the traction on her wheelchair completely gone. After she talked about her long sojourn across Rio Grande, she paused. Then smiled.

“I always keep goin’, no matter what. You can sit in your room at The Road Home or you get out and go do something, even though it takes a lot of time. But during the wintertime, lots of people are willing to help out,” she sighs.

She sighs in relief because her time at The Road Home is finally behind her. After surgery on her hip, she found an apartment through affordable housing. An apartment, Drea said, that is completely handicapped accessible. It has hardwood floors, lowered cabinets and fixtures, a roll-in shower, the works.

staying positive smiling nonprofit healthcare homelessness fourth street clinic

Drea Westerfield laughs with Scott Taylor, Medical Assistant at Fourth Street Clinic.

It wasn’t soon after that her health declined. Years of homelessness had taken its toll on her body.

She died at her home, 45 years old, November 15 from liver failure.

Homelessness drastically lowers someone’s quality of life

According to the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, the average life expectancy for homeless individuals is as low as 41 years old. Lack of insurance, affordable housing and employment can keep a person homeless. This makes recovering from illness or disease much more difficult. For Drea, the physical stress of homelessness was too much.

Trish Williams, an APRN at Fourth Street Clinic, is grateful for the relationship she built with Drea.

“Drea and I built a friendship over the past year, it was special because it was the first time the provider-patient relationship was a friendship as well,” Williams said. “She was the epitome of making every day count. And despite the many things she could have complained about, I never once heard her begrudge her circumstances. She had the best attitude. Recently her life had turned around for her in many positive ways. I believe that we are placed in specific places for reasons beyond us and I truly feel that Drea was one of the reasons that I was brought to be here at Fourth Street. Her smile and positive energy will be missed.”

When I met with Drea, she had a lot to say about Trish Williams as well. “Trish is awesome. She cares and she listens, and she’ll help you out in any way she can. I like her a lot – she’s amazing, in my eyes.” Drea was always thankful for what she had – and didn’t go anywhere without her smile.

For me, I’m grateful to have met Drea. She was instantly kind and friendly the moment I met her. It’s important to know the stories of the often-overlooked, because among the heartbreak and complexity of homelessness, the humanity remains. There’s compassion in the work Fourth Street Clinic does for men, women and children experiencing homelessness. And it’s what keeps the work moving forward. The work of ending poverty within one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The work of giving everyone access to health care. Because everyone deserves it.

Help us solve the crisis of homelessness

When you donate to Fourth Street Clinic, it goes straight into patient care. Services like primary care, dental care, behavioral health care, specialty care such as gastroenterology and gynecology, wellness classes for further health education, and on-site pharmacy services. You can save lives with a donation to Fourth Street Clinic. During Give One Raise Two, our sponsors match what you give, providing twice the health care.