Dr. Nova Evans and Sonia Goodwin are the team from Sunny Street, providing health care to homeless and vulnerable people.
Dr. Nova Evans and Sonia Goodwin are the team from Sunny Street, providing health care to homeless and vulnerable people. Warren Lynam

Doctor and nurse quit their jobs to help Gympie homeless

EVERY Friday they come to Gympie.

The doctor and nurse who gave up their careers in the public health system to try to make a difference on the streets, and who are doing what they can for the almost 2000 homeless people estimated to be homeless in Gympie and on the Sunshine Coast.

Sunny Street was founded and is owned and run by Dr Nova Evans and nursing director Sonia Goodwin, providing mobile healthcare to the homeless and vulnerable individuals and families.

Every Friday morning they run a pop up clinic at the Gympie Salvation headquarters in Stumm Rd.

The future of this outreach program is at least temporarily assured following the announcement this week of 12 months funding from not-for-profit commissioning agency Central Queensland, Wide Bay, Sunshine Coast PHN.

PHN Senior Manager Robb Major said Sunny Street provided primary healthcare and complex coordination services for the homeless and vulnerable.

"There are approximately 1800 people experiencing homelessness on the Sunshine Coast and many more experiencing complex vulnerability,” said Mr Major.

"That might mean having no fixed address, living with addiction or mental health issues and lacking the resources to make and keep appointment in a general practice setting.

HARD BUT REWARDING: Dr Nova Evans and Sonia Goodwin visit Gympie to help the homeless and vulnerable.
HARD BUT REWARDING: Dr Nova Evans and Sonia Goodwin visit Gympie to help the homeless and vulnerable. Danielle Ford

"At Sunny Street, they can gain much needed access to medical advice, diagnosis and treatment from health professionals, in a safe and welcoming environment, free from judgment.”

Founded in July 2018 by Medical Director Dr Nova Evans and Nursing Director Sonia Goodwin, Sunny Street also provides healthcare to women and children living in domestic violence refuges, women and men after incarceration and children leaving juvenile detention centres.

Sunny Street co-founder and Medical Director Dr Nova Evans said the physical and mental health challenges facing those experiencing homelessness were often confronting.

"We see patients coming in who are using everything from toilet paper and rags from Bunnings to sanitary pads strapped to their limbs for wound care,” said Dr Evans.

Dr. Nova Evans and Sonia Goodwin are the team from Sunny Street, providing health care to homeless and vulnerable people.
Dr. Nova Evans and Sonia Goodwin are the team from Sunny Street, providing health care to homeless and vulnerable people. Warren Lynam

"Some of our clients have little or no health literacy, and as a result of childhood trauma, intergenerational violence and dependencies, or even simply bad luck, have found themselves in an insecure living situation and in most cases, homeless.

"Our aim is to not only connect people to treatment and services, but ultimately connect them with a sense of community as well, to help them not only survive, but eventually start to thrive.”

Operating out of a mobile van and at pop up clinics at local organisations like the Maroochydore Outreach Centre, The Shak in Nambour and the Salvation Army in Gympie, Sunny Street has recently also started to expand their vital services into the Brisbane area.

Sunny Street health outreach service founders Dr Nova Evans and Sonia Goodwin.
Sunny Street health outreach service founders Dr Nova Evans and Sonia Goodwin.

"We provide a range of health care services at all of our clinics, from general health assessments, immunisations and sexually transmitted infection treatment, to cervical screening, chronic disease management and support and health education and promotion,” said Dr Evans.

"We are also big on social prescribing, and our GPs and nurses can refer patients to a range of non-clinical services, as a way to help people take greater control of their own health.”

Dr Evans and Ms Goodwin met in February 2017 whilst working in the public health system. Within their employed roles, they both worked as managers of services whose primary focus was to discharge people safely home from the hospital system.

In one particular influential experience they recount, one evening they viewed a documentary about a palliative care doctor in India who had decided to assist the poorest of individuals on the streets by providing palliative care in a safe shelter, ensuring a dignified death.

After this documentary, and whilst their current working roles were challenging and enjoyable, Nova and Sonia questioned whether they were truly reaching those individuals and families within the local community who were inherently vulnerable and were unable to access mainstream healthcare.

Salvation Army fundraising and public relations co-ordinator Leanne Harrison with award winning Gympie milliner Cindy Vogels, who was MC for the Red Shield Appeal's breakfast launch for 2019.
Salvation Army fundraising and public relations co-ordinator Leanne Harrison with award winning Gympie milliner Cindy Vogels, who was MC for the Red Shield Appeal's breakfast launch for 2019. Arthur Gorrie

As skilled leaders, managers and clinicians, they decided to search for a way to positively impact their local community's healthcare at an individual, family and regional level and take action. In March 2018, Dr Evans & Sonia Goodwin resigned on the same day from their public sector managerial roles.

They decided they had 20-30 years of their professional years left to make a difference as a doctor and a Nurse and felt that they would be able to influence the healthcare system by creating a new model of care and working outside the system.

Several weeks later, after many conversations with women in varying businesses, after spending time together discussing their professional drivers and passions, and viewing the shocking Australian Bureau of Statistics data on children under the age of 12 experiencing homelessness, the concept of Sunny Street evolved.

Since then, the Sunny Street service has been spoken, written and actioned into existence! Sunny Street offers the chance for people to take the time and have a conversation with a Doctor and/or a nurse regarding their own lived experience of their unique health journey, their understanding of their health concerns/issues and their capacity to take action and affect their life in a positive and independent way.

Nova and Sonia are excited about healthcare disruption, thinking outside the box for solutions to challenges and actioning change.

Gympie Times


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