CHINATOWN (HawaiiNewsNow) - On Tuesday morning in Chinatown, Dr. Christina Wang and other members of the CHOW Project's street medicine team stumbled across someone lying on the side of River Street that they hadn't seen in a while.
"I'm a mess," said Robert.
"I want to help you," Wang replied.
At one time, Robert was the state's second-highest user of emergency room care. Wang said he checked into the Queen's Medical Center nearly 200 times in a single year.
With the help of outreach providers, he's was doing much better. Last anyone saw him he was sober and hadn't been to the hospital in nearly eight months.
But he's struggled more recently.
With a beer in his hand, he told the doctor, "I lost everything."
And so the street medicine team bandaged an open sore on Robert's leg while Wang made phone calls to see if there was space for him in detox.
The team has proven integral to helping dozens of the hardest to house get help — and, eventually, get off the streets.
They've also helped save countless dollars in health care.
Each time someone is admitted to the emergency room for wound care it costs about $1,500 on average. That's compared to $20 when those same wounds are dressed on the street.
The CHOW Project's street medicine team works closely with the agency's needle exchange program, which was created nearly two decades ago to prevent the spread of HIV.
"It's an area that we can also interact with folks who have really good established relationships with our outreach workers. We build that trust that way and that's really important," Wang said.
It's those bonds that open the door for conversations about detox and housing.
Over the past year, Wang said the team's work has helped close to 60 people find their way off the street.
Holding Robert's hand, Wang told him, "I'm glad to see you today. Can I get you a ride up to the office? Don't you think that would be a safer plan than staying on the street?"
Robert agreed, and then agreed again when asked if he'd go back into detox.