Seaside Musings: Mobile medical van helps those needing services

The TrueCare mobile health clinic in Oceanside last year.
(John Gastaldo / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Encinitas offers program for homeless people, including medical and dental services through TrueCare


Some people, without proper housing and ability to clean up, feel uncomfortable walking into a conventional medical office and sitting in the waiting room with other more-fortunate folks.

They would rather go to a mobile medical-services van, says Dr. Jorge Otañez, associate chief medical officer at TrueCare, a nonprofit community-based health center.

The Rev. Brenda Sol, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Encinitas for the past nine years, shares the same concerns for the dignity of those experiencing homelessness or perhaps sleeping in their cars just down the street at the city’s Safe Parking Program lot.

Her church, with volunteers from other nearby religious institutions and even those with no such affiliation, has been helping those in need for two decades.

It’s been located on its present site on Balour Drive since the 1950s, and Sol said many of those needing services walk to the campus, lining up on Thursday afternoons for the food pantry.

The church’s program added a Friday lunch and has grown from there.

Sol said before the pandemic, 60 to 70 families were being served, but nowadays the number is around 250.

In an interview on the church grounds last week, Sol said they found that instead of just being handed boxes of food, those who came for help enjoyed the dignity of being able to “shop” in a marketplace and choose their own groceries.

She showed the large parish hall and explained how tables are set up with items displayed so that people can select what they need.

On Thursdays, they get food to take away.

On Saturdays, they get a hot breakfast, a haircut, a shower, clothes if they need them, and now medical or dental care (alternating).

Sol said food and clothing cost about $1,000 monthly, and the church has received grants and donations to cover costs. It also gets supplies from San Diego Food Bank and government surplus.

It gives out recipes for foods — zucchini perhaps — that might not be common in some cultures.

She showed where a shower van sets up — and each person gets 12 minutes and there’s a knock after 10 minutes to warn of the time limit. The “Showers of Blessing” can accommodate 24 people during a four-hour morning shift.

Hairstylist Leigh Ann Maniaci provides haircuts at St. Andrew’s as well as on Tuesdays at St. Patrick Catholic Community in Carlsbad.

Sol showed off space, once a preschool, where a “tech center” is set up on days when people come. They can use a laptop computer and securely store documents, often not safe if kept in a car.

There are some guitars and a keyboard because, Sol said, there are musicians who come but can’t carry their instruments on the street.

Sol said that she long had thought that medical and dental services were needed as well.

Then, a parishioner spotted a TrueCare medical van, and the organization was contacted. It had just put its third new mobile unit in service and started sending it to St. Andrew’s weekly.

“We do all of this,” Sol said, “because we believe we are all family.”

Signs all around the church property tell visitors that “God loves you. No exceptions.”

TrueCare representatives said it put one new medical van on the road in 2021, one in 2022 and now one in 2023 with plans for more to come.

The organization, founded in 1971, operates in 21 locations in north San Diego and southern Riverside counties with clinics in Oceanside, Carlsbad, San Marcos, Encinitas, Ramona and Perris. It reports serving 60,000 patients with 300,000 visits yearly.

It provides every kind of medical service, Otañez said, but of special note are the muscular-skeletal issues that come from sleeping scrunched in a car.

In the beginning, Otañez said, the area was more rural and that’s where agricultural workers most needed the mobile service and still do, although it’s more developed. Still, he said, workers “deserve to be treated with dignity.”