Delivering Good Health for the Las Vegas Homeless Community

Tzu Chi Medical Foundation  |  August 27, 2019
Tzu Chi volunteers provide careful treatment to individuals who are homeless in Las Vegas.

On August 3rd, 2019, Tzu Chi volunteers hosted a medical outreach event at the Salvation Army in Las Vegas, Nevada. The volunteer team was led by Tzu Chi Medical Mission Chief Executive Officer, Dr. William Keh. Truck loaded up with medical equipment, Elvis Gao drove to Las Vegas with the mission of providing quality care and support for individuals who are homeless. Five volunteers worked on medical archives, equipment disinfection, and other preparation work. Volunteers Mark & Lorrie Ostrander, who are both from San Diego, were in charge of reception and archiving medical forms.

No Way to Manage Dental Health

From the chill of winter to the sweltering heat of summer, tens of thousands of homeless people currently live in Las Vegas – a populous city characterized by its giant neon lights. The people here consider themselves lucky if they can obtain a tent or piece of canvas to sleep under. Purchasing toothbrushes and toothpaste is a luxury, and seeing the dentist is far beyond reach. Thus, they have no other choice but to endure their tooth pain, and ultimately lose the affected tooth.

Tzu Chi USA volunteers have been hosting medical outreach, free haircuts, and second-hand clothes distributions regularly since 2015. Through Tzu Chi, dentists can provide charitable medical services on weekends to those who cannot afford it. As per usual, medical equipment was sent from our Tzu Chi USA Headquarters to the Salvation Army, where Dr. Phan Nguyen, a medical professional from Vietnam, would take over from there. Dr. Phan Nguyen has been volunteering with Tzu Chi USA’s medical outreach missions since 2017, and has also encouraged his colleagues and friends to take part in the medical outreach. Dr. Phan Nguyen also hopes that in the future there can be more opportunities to provide outreach, and that support for these events will grow.

Tzu Chi’s outreach provides more than medical services.

Dr. Phan Nguyen has a bigger goal

Having immigrated to the US, Dr. Phan Nguyen has some particularly poignant reasons working so hard at medical outreach. He recalled, “For my part, I’ve been through a tough life as well. As a refugee from Vietnam in 1984, we came here very poor. We didn’t have much money. My dad and I, we used to go to look for cans to recycle for money. So I know how it feels to be poor and not have the resources in life. What it means to come here and help the most unfortunate people in the valley.”

Dr. Phan Nguyen hopes to help even more people in the future.

“My goal for the future,” Dr. Phan Nguyen continued, “is to be able to get the funding for the equipment and do more frequent outreaches. We have the doctors. The doctors here are very eager to help and make a difference for the community.”

Dr. Phan Nguyen’s wish is to provide more services to the community, and with their own medical equipment, instead of transporting it from California. To serve more people in the homeless community and to provide further dental services to children from poor families are what Tzu Chi members are working toward.

Dr. Phan Nguyen also hopes to spread the word about the work Tzu Chi members have been doing in Las Vegas so more people can benefit from the aid. By dedicating his efforts to helping those who are homeless, doctors are doing their share to plant the seeds of care and compassion within the community.

Provide Psychological Relief to the Community

Chelsea Shirabe is a local volunteer, and a freshman in college as well as a Tzu Chi scholarship recipient. Having recently graduated from Advanced Technologies Academy, a high school in Las Vegas, she came to know Tzu Chi through her scholarship application. She will soon study Psychology at New York University. 

When she started her scholarship application, Chelsea knew only a little about Tzu Chi. Gradually, she found that she shares many of Tzu Chi’s values. Upon learning that Tzu Chi has been providing dental services to the community, she said, “I really want to provide mental support, especially for people who are homeless.” One’s mental health is crucial, and impacts all aspects of life, from work to daily tasks. She hopes that in the future, she will be able to work alongside Tzu Chi by providing mental health services to homeless communities. 

Through Tzu Chi, both those who give their aid and those who receive it are deeply interconnected.

Freddy was very glad to be there – he told us he’d been coming here for four years. “No insurance, and couldn’t afford it,” he explained. After taking an X-ray, Dr. Phan Nguyen extracted a tooth for him.

Thankfully, we were able to relieve Freddy’s tooth pain that very day.
Freddy told us he had not seen a dentist in quite a while due to the high cost.

"Now I will remember Tzu Chi forever!”

“Being a local here, we’d like to do anything we can to help. It might be very simple stuff, like filling a tooth and teeth cleanings, but there’s lots of stuff we can do to help our local community,” Dr. Randy Hong  explained. 

James H. Stamper hasn’t visited a dentist for four years –  he simply couldn’t afford it. Four years ago, he was impressed by another medical outreach event of Tzu Chi’s, but eventually forgot the name of the organization, and therefore, lost contact with Tzu Chi. One day, when he was getting breakfast, he happened to see Tzu Chi volunteers in their white and navy-blue uniforms. He felt like he was reuniting with old friends. 

James had his teeth cleaned at the medical outreach, and received a toothbrush, toothpaste, and second-hand clothing. This time, he wrote down Tzu Chi’s name, address, and phone number. “I tried to look it up on the internet and I couldn’t remember the name. But now I will remember Tzu Chi forever,” he said. 

James was glad to have reunited with his Tzu Chi family.

Through Shared Compassion, Tzu Chi Is Always with Care Recipients

Many charities are trying their best to reduce homelessness in Las Vegas. Some provide shelter, and others cook hot meals. Doctors regularly provide medical outreach as well. To date, Tzu Chi is the only NGO, however, to provide dental services to homeless individuals in Las Vegas while also bringing used clothes to the community.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Tzu Chi volunteers practice this very concept. Volunteers also believe that the answer to homelessness is to help those who find themselves homeless, not to chase them away. With compassion and respect, Tzu Chi will always be there for those who could use a hand up in tough times.