What It’s Like To: Heal the Wounds of Homelessness in O.C.

Michael Sean Wright of Santa Ana, founder of Wound Walk OC, offers help and kindness to people living on the streets.
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

I moved to Santa Ana four years ago, and on my daily walks I noticed that there were people who could use some help. I had a small first-aid kit, and I had a baby bottle that I put wound wash solution in. So as I got to see folks on a regular basis, I would say, “Do you mind if I wash your wound?”

When the pandemic hit, all the supporting organizations that would normally be out doing the group meals and offering aid, they weren’t able to do that. I continued to go out. I had a good mask, good gloves, and a raincoat that I sealed with blue painter’s tape. I had a really good protocol to mitigate my risk of exposure.

The pandemic shut off access to water—the fast-food restaurants and libraries were closed. I went to Home Depot and got some 2-gallon tanks. My friends came up with a recipe for wound wash—sterile saline and purified water—and we were able to get water flowing over wounds. Then we used special medicated pads that allow us to do dry dressings; that helped with complicated infections.

We’re out four times a week. Our regular rounds are in Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, Fullerton, and Anaheim, and we picked up other cities as needs grew. We hand out a lot of masks, a lot of hand sanitizer. We bring sandwiches and Gatorade and comfort care packs with underwear, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste. That’s a kind of first response. The second is really trying to get the wound to turn around, not advance.

Our hope has always been to get a person to a clinic. The goal is to create a trust between the inside and the outside of a clinic. That creates a new relationship because their health care in the past has been the ER, and that doesn’t work for anybody.

The amazing part of this is that people stop and ask, “What can we do?” If you go to woundwalk.org/donate, you’ll see the Amazon logo; you click on that, and that’s our wish list. It’s very specific. It’s what we find works in the field, and it will change based upon what we need. One week we may need more ice packs or more cohesive tape. Always sterile saline; can’t get enough of that. Each little thing is a big, big thing.

Families have said, “We can do your sandwich support on, say, Wednesdays.” “We’ll do your sandwich support on Fridays.” So families rotate. The kids will make 50 to 75 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That’s an opportunity for Mom and Dad to talk about where this is going.

COVID-19 revealed who we are. In this political time, there’s not a lot to agree on, but we can all agree that wounds need to heal. None of us has all the answers, but we can wash a wound, wash that person’s feet, wash a hand, bring them relief in that moment.

We do see progress. We do see hope. We wrap up a wound, and the exchange afterward is, “All right. That wasn’t bad. I can do this.” And it is possible for this to get better. It is. And they see it.

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