Clinic expands street medicine to Torrance Tiny Home Village 

October 10, 2022

For Tiny Home Village resident Deric Hawkins, having a roof over his head and access to health care feels like “a miracle.”

Before he got one of the 40 available spots at the City of Torrance’s Tiny Home Village, which currently offers private 64-square-foot Pallet shelters as temporary housing to people experiencing homelessness, Hawkins, 35, didn’t think he would live to see his next birthday.

But on this day he saw Dr. Mimie Tran, who provides care to residents each week as part of Venice Family Clinic’s street medicine program. Hawkins had been dealing with high blood pressure, and so Tran had prescribed medication for him. But he shared that he didn’t like some side effects, so Tran gave him a prescription for a different one. She then went over his bloodwork, which indicated that he was pre-diabetic, and gave him advice on how to adjust his diet. Tran also referred Hawkins to the Clinic’s behavioral health services. And he received a tetanus shot.

Venice Family Clinic has been providing care at the village since it opened in July. Operated by homeless services organization Harbor Interfaith Services, the village offers laundry machines, bathrooms with showers, meals and 24-hour security, as well as assistance with job training and housing voucher applications, while residents wait for more permanent housing. The Tiny Home Village also allows pets, which is often a barrier to temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness. The village has capacity for 80 individuals at double occupancy, but due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, each unit currently houses just one person.

“Being in a constant state of hypervigilance can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting,” Tran said. “Having a consistent, safe place to get clean water, use the restroom, shower, sleep, store your belongings, charge your phone – and not be harassed – can go a long way. Patients have also shared that having a space to lay down that isn’t in a car or on the street has helped minimize a lot of chronic pain.”

So far, the Clinic’s street medicine team that goes to this location, which includes Tran, coordinator Amy Garrido, and nurses Jacqueline Ramirez and Rolando Arroyo, has cared for 18 of the village’s residents, with some making return visits.

“In addition to basic screenings, the biggest health issue we’re working on at the village is addressing mental health and helping patients start or restart their medications for anxiety and/or depression,” Tran said. “The goal of our team is to be a consistent, friendly face that residents can get to know and feel safe getting their care from.”

Getting back on his feet

Jonathan McCutcheon, 31, is one of Tran’s regular patients. A Torrance native, he grew up with his grandparents just down the street from the Tiny Home Village site at the city’s civic center. But when his grandparents moved to a seniors-only trailer park, McCutcheon was left without a place to call home. For eight years, he experienced bouts of homelessness as he battled depression and anxiety. About a year ago, McCutcheon was living with his brother and family when they moved to a smaller house, leaving McCutcheon again without a place to live. He became overwhelmed, depressed and lost his job. He lived in his car for a while until it got towed. Unable to pay to retrieve it, McCutcheon began living in a park. That’s when a police officer approached him and asked if he wanted help, pointing him to Harbor Interfaith, which secured him a unit in the Tiny Home Village.

“Having a place to call my own, where I can lock my door, has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders,” said McCutcheon, who has been living at the village since it opened. “It has helped my mental health a lot. Before I was constantly anxious, immensely depressed and slightly suicidal. I didn’t see a way out. But now my anxiety is almost nonexistent, and I haven’t had a suicidal thought since I moved in here.”

McCutcheon has seen Tran multiple times now, and she diagnosed him with tendinitis in his left bicep, caused by sleeping on his side on concrete. She pointed him to some videos online that have helped him do some physical therapy on his own while he waits for his new health insurance to kick in. He now works for the security company at the village.

Being employed is important to McCutcheon, and his goal is to get back on his feet so he can have a place to call his own.

“I just want to be able to come home after a day’s work, sit down and turn on the TV – just enjoy the little things again,” he said. “Being able to live here at the village and get help, including health care, has been a gift. It has been everything.”