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  • Jennifer Slepin, MSN, RN

Whole Lotta Schleppin' Going On


In early 2016, after learning I was cured of hepatitis C (HCV), I had a vision of sorts, of moving into rural areas to be a part of the solution to the HCV and opiate epidemics. In hindsight, I've been preparing for this for a long time, I just didn't know that's what I was doing. In late 2008, I moved to San Francisco from North Carolina, where I had lived for almost 30 years. Moving across the country was the first of many iterations of downsizing. Since I moved to California, I've moved at least 10 times and with each move, something has been given away, left behind. I have missed almost none of it. After purging down to the things I really want and the rest in storage, I embarked on a cross country road trip in Marlo (my Prius).

I thought the trip would take about 6 weeks, but it turned into 6 months. The experiences on that trip and the people I met along the way underscored the idea that rural areas across our country are suffering from opiate addiction and HCV, and there aren't enough healthcare resources to handle the multivariate problems. My vision of making a difference was viable. I pushed on, although I wasn't absolutely sure what I was pushing toward. I only knew I was being called to do some unconventional and important work. I founded a nonprofit (Hepatitis C Clinical Education Group, Inc./HepCarestream). Doing the work in remote rural areas requires mobility. It also requires stability in the form of a place to live. I decided an Airstream trailer that holds its value and integrity was the way to go. It took a year and a half to find the right Airstream (price, size, etc) but that all fell into place and my nonprofit now owns its first HepCarestream. She's a 2010 Flying Cloud, and she's 30' long. Her name is Livvy and I've just moved in.

What is required to realize a dream?

Since the day in May of 2015 when I moved out of my apartment in Oakland, I've been "homeless". Well, homeless with resources. A lot of people were exceedingly generous in their support, acting as the early venture capitalists in my mission by providing support to get me to the next level. Some examples of this support are Cecilia & Tracy in Austin who gave up their own bedroom and allowed me to stay with them for a week, Drew and Robin in Baton Rouge who offered up their guest house, my cousin Merritt in Oakland who has opened her home to me, many times, Karen in Southern California who has allowed me to use her address as my own, Paula in Raleigh who let me live with her at no cost for 6 weeks and provided a bedroom AND an office for me to work in, my Atlanta cousin Lauren hosted me for a week, Christian in SF opened his home to me twice, and Carol hooked me up with a 3 month housesitting gig in Oakland. I rented a room in a very cold house in the Sunset District of San Francisco in the winter and sublet a short term spot in Laurel Heights. There have been many other places and situations. I have never been without a place to sleep but not having a permanent home has required me be flexible and spontaneous. I've slept on couches, in spare bedrooms, on my blowup mattress in my tent in some spectacular campsites across this country, and a lot of Marriotts. In a certain way, it's been uncomfortable. But that discomfort gives way in the face of the opportunity to have so many experiences. It didn't hurt to know that I was paying my dues in a sense- that these sacrifices from the normal were the path to realizing the dream of caring for people in rural areas. This peripatetic life is anything but mundane.

Over this 17 months of homelessness, I've gained 30 pounds, allowed my hair to be gray, let go of a lot of beliefs about how things are "supposed to be" and gotten quite comfortable with the unknown. As I have patiently and doggedly pursued the ability to do the work for which I am uniquely qualified, my ever-growing faith has carried me through all of it. Some of it has been uncomfortable. But it's allowed me to focus on the prize, and not worry what people think. I feel much closer to my higher power. Funny how that happens when you yield to a calling.

What's next?

The acquisition of Livvy the HepCarestream now means I once again have a permanent home that will serve as my mobile office and allow me to become a known entity and partner in the 13 counties we are targeting. I'm starting out in Eureka where there is plenty of work to do. Moving forward, you'll hear less about Livvy, and more about the work I'm doing.

I'm challenged to collaborate in these underserved communities to find a common ground toward resolution to some big problems. My bag of tools is better equipped to build something effective and sustainable.


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