Clifton has lived in a tent west of Durango for about nine months. He suffers from chronic back pain, especially when hiking up and down mountains to access his campsite. He smokes cannabis to help ease the pain.
But the pain has grown increasingly worse in recent months, and his supply of marijuana has grown scarce, prompting him to visit an herbalist late last month who recommended a regimen of teas and other natural remedies to alleviate stress and pain.
“I live 15 miles up on a mountain,” said Clifton, who declined to give his last name. “I’ve had two back surgeries, so my legs just don’t carry me no more.”
Those who are homeless or facing financial hardship often lack basic needs: a shower, shelter, warm clothes or nutritious meals – to name a few. But they also lack more secondary needs, such as counseling, herbal supplements and someone to talk to.
That is where Kate Husted comes in.
In her traveling “Herb Hut Free Clinic,” Husted goes wherever indigent and homeless people are most likely to hang out, including Manna soup kitchen in Durango and Pine River Shares in Bayfield. She offers hourlong consultations inside the mobile hut, which looks like a tiny house built into the bed of a pickup. After hearing her clients describe their physical, emotional and mental ailments – in addition to discussing their lifestyles – she recommends herbal teas or liquid herbal extracts, dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments and meditation exercises.
“Paying really close attention and listening really well is a big part of the benefit they receive when they come in,” Husted said from inside her Herb Hut parked at Manna. “It’s clear that some people need someone to listen to them.”
Liz Stellrecht, support service specialist at Manna, said Husted’s consultations give clients a chance to vent about anything on their minds and speak with someone about their aches and pains.
“People have loved it,” Stellrecht said. “It’s something new and it’s just different, and some people really believe in it. Plus, she brings such a great, light presence here.”
Husted is a clinical herbalist with a private practice that serves residents in La Plata County, especially rural residents. Her husband built the mobile hut for travel, but Husted also uses it to make house calls and to run her nonprofit.
She started holding free clinics in August.
She decided to reach out to “underserved” people after seeing her friend donate vegetables from her garden to the La Plata Family Center, and asked herself what she could do to serve those in need.
People who are homeless or facing homelessness often have high levels of stress and anxiety, especially as winter approaches, Husted said. They also tend to suffer from digestive problems and topical skin issues – all of which herbal remedies, changes in diets and different life habits can help, she said.
In addition to helping homeless people, she also provides free or reduced-price consultations to the elderly, disabled and undocumented immigrants. She plans to expand her services to rural residents who may not have easy access to herbalists or those struggling with addiction.
“I realized there are big groups in this county struggling in all kinds of ways, either they don’t have health insurance or they have food insecurity,” Husted said. “Even if you have health insurance, it doesn’t pay for an herbalist.
“Since I’ve been doing it, I feel it’s been going so much more positively than I even imagined it would. I feel like it’s the right thing for me to be doing.”
Some of the homeless people Husted has counseled have had “traumatic” experiences navigating the health care system. Many have been prescribed drugs, but they don’t take those medications because they don’t like the way it makes them feel, she said.
Herbal remedies, meditation and lifestyle changes can help address their needs, she said.
“I would love to spend more and more time doing this,” Husted said. “I was just trying to increase accessibility to something I think is really valuable.”