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Staff physician at Phoenix Children's Hospital

Medical Director of Crews'n Healthmobile, a mobile medical clinic providing primary and comprehensive medical care to homeless children since 2000

Received CNN's Heroes Award and was named People Magazine's 'Heroes Among Us'

Tufts University, 1995

Married to Amy; 3 children


Dr. Randy Christensen: Helping the Hidden Homeless


As a young physician, Dr. Randy and his wife Amy, also a pediatrician, deeply desired to help homeless kids.  He was 33 when Phoenix Children’s Hospital began a medical outreach to homeless kids in a converted van called The Crews’n Healthmobile (affectionately called “Big Blue,”) It is a rolling clinic. 

Dr. Randy and Dr. Amy are Christians and say they are quiet in their faith.  Their compassion is poured out on the kids and over ten years have seen many lives changed, and many lives lost.  Dr. Randy says currently there are at least 5,000 homeless kids in the state of Arizona and most of them are around the area he serves because they usually stay near big cities. 

“Big Blue’s” medical crew has had 3,000 medical visits in 2009 and 4,000 medical visits in 2010.  In 2011, they estimate they will see about 5,000.  Dr. Randy never wanted the medical services to be like a band aid.  The medical service that “Big Blue” provides is comprehensive, holistic medical care. 

The medical staff and their partners get the homeless off the streets and network with mental health, dental care, mentorship, GED/education, and shelters.  The staff also gives patient referrals with great care.  They make recommendations based on their patients’ individual needs and create relationships for the patients’ long term care and recovery.  For example, if a homeless child with bad feet goes the to emergency room, he will be stuck with topical relief, a bill, a couple of prescriptions that he probably can’t get filled because he  doesn’t have the money, and no follow-up care.  If a child goes to “Big Blue” they will give him the medication along with socks and shoes.  They also do a full health screening for all the patients.  He will probably get referrals for other care he needs and education. 

Dr. Randy wants to be a “one stop shop” to address the patients’ entire medical and long-term recovery needs.  “Big Blue’s” crew works with group homes, which is a good situation because they can pick and choose homes and schedule times with the children.  Another service the health mobile provides is the kids can contact a nurse triage service 24 hours a day for medical information or to get a prescription, which the kids love.  Many of the kids they have seen are getting involved in education.  With over 20 of their patients, either they or their mothers get involved in nursing programs.  Dr. Randy does more administrative work now and doesn’t go out with “Big Blue” as much as he used to.   One of his colleagues Jan, a nurse practitioner, is on board “Big Blue” more.  For five days a week there are several clinics.  He anticipates having more clinics soon.


Homeless children and adolescents are the fastest growing group of homeless people.  This includes youth who move from living in hotel rooms, to a room, to the street, etc.  Unfortunately, it is hard getting them out of that lifestyle.  Dr. Randy sees more and more kids on the street and less and less shelters because funding for shelters and services are scarce.  Many people don’t think that homeless adolescents should get aid because these young people should be able get a job; they don’t need help or support.  Because of the economy, some care providers have closed and there are now more people out on the street. 

Here are some statistics on Homeless youth (from 2009):

*82 percent of the Hospital's homeless and at-risk population self-reported having a substance abuse problem.

*62 percent have an extensive history of family drug use.

*66 percent suffer from depression.

*34 percent have been sexually abused/assaulted.

*44 percent have attempted suicide.

*20 percent experience hallucinations that are not related to drugs.

*Homeless youth have been physically abused at twice the rate of other children, and are three times as likely to be sexually abused.

*Depression, mood disorder, conduct disorder, substance abuse and attempted suicide are common diagnoses with these teens and young adults.

*Two-thirds of homeless street youth met diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder. 

*41 percent of homeless children in the U.S. are under the age of five.

*Nearly 20 percent of homeless children lack a regular source of medical care.

*The average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is nine years old.


Most homeless children are scared of “the man” or “the system,” like “Mary” was (name has been changed to protect her).  The van would go to the haunts where the kids lived and they would appear at the door.   Mary, who at 17 looked 13, was emaciated, dull-eyed and rarely talked. 

As Dr. Randy worked with her and won her trust, he gradually learned her story.  She lived in a concrete hole outside the city just big enough for her to crawl into with a blanket and escape the dangers.  Her father had been sent to prison for sexually abusing her since she was 4.  Through the doctor’s unflagging support she left the concrete hole, and moved in with an aunt who her father had kept her away from for many years.  Mary had never met her. 

Though nearly catatonic, she turned out to be a very bright student who excelled in computer studies, later going on to college.  Unfortunately, Mary’s story is not uncommon.  While Dr. Randy’s co-author, Renee, was getting Mary’s story, Renee found out that five other girls on the street were also sexually abused.  The crew often gets asked a lot how do they deal with that?  The crews’ answer is they can’t change these children’s’ pasts but the crew can help change their futures.


Donny was a big, good-looking blonde kid who was left on the steps of the church.  The pastor brought him to Big Blue to be treated.  Donny was developmentally slow and kids threw stones at him, etc.  Dr. Randy discovered major skull fractures where Donny’s farmer dad in Alabama had beaten him with a board for years before putting him on a bus to nowhere with a fake address for relatives.  Pastor Richardson and his wife took Donny in as their own son, and his black congregation became Donny’s new family.  Donny eventually married and took over the pastor’s dry-walling business.


Then there are stories of kids like Nicole, who was so traumatized by her childhood rape and mutilation that she manifested several different personalities.  No one ever knew who she really was.  When a street friend brought her for medical help-the kids look out for each other-she talked as Becca, an eight-year-old girl. 

One other time she talked in the rough voice of a man.  After treating her over eight years or so, she died on the street by a dumpster, murdered, and no one really knew who she was.   They lose kids to drug abuse (due to tragedies in their families of origin) and violence.  Often, the kids feel like they are safer on the streets than their home situation.  It’s a risky life style out there and being out in the street is dangerous.  Many kids are robbed on a regular basis so the clinic has to be careful how much medication, supplies, etc. they give patients.  Most women new to the streets are forced to resort to “survival sex” after a few days.


Dr. Randy says it’s not acceptable for these kids to be forgotten.  They are survivors.  They have many virtues and desperately want to have happy futures.  These are kids who could be and deserved to be saved.  The future of the country depends on the next generation.   

Dr. Randy wrote Ask Me Why I Hurt because he had to tell the stories of these children and as a call to action.   He has been as truthful as possible to give an honest account of what he has seen.   He says he is not superman and he’s made some mistakes but he is a testament that if you follow your passion, you can make a difference to help.   He started the van because he felt more comfortable doing this type of work. 

Dr Randy's parents were a great inspiration in this work.  They gave an amazing amount of love and guidance and instilled in him to give back.  Dr. Randy feels that he’s been incredibly blessed to do this work.  Once a year, he goes with the Children’s Health Fund to talk to Congressional leaders to advocate for the homeless about health care legislation.  He says you can start taking action spending time with your children and being involved with their lives; getting involved and volunteer in your community; and donating to worthy organizations if you have the means.

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