Devoted to the Health and Well Being of our Unhoused Neighbors – Danielle Schnauber Jones 

Every year, underneath a highway overpass at the intersection of Fort Pitt Boulevard and Grant Street, Downtown Pittsburgh, there is a candlelight vigil on the Winter Solstice to remember people who might otherwise be forgotten. This year on December 21, 22 plaques, each bearing the name of an individual who died while experiencing homelessness, will be added to the wall of memorial plaques beneath the overpass. 

“It’s a time for family, friends, and homeless service providers to join together to share stories and remember the individuals who died in 2023,” said Danielle Schnauber Jones, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, a nurse practitioner with Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net and an alum of Carlow University. “For me, it’s a time to look at all those individuals who made an impact on my life.” 

As a nurse practitioner, Schnauber Jones provides care for homeless individuals at Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center, an integrated physical and behavioral health primary care practice in South Side and at Second Avenue Commons, the new year-round, low-barrier emergency shelter in Uptown, and out on the streets of Pittsburgh. Working in teams of at least two, Operation Safety Net health care providers meet people experiencing homelessness under bridges, in alleyways, or wherever they may be. 

“The favorite part of my job is when the individuals I meet allow me to be part of their journey,” she said. “It is a privilege to meet individuals experiencing homelessness on the street, earn their trust, and provide medical care for them. When you can finally see the vulnerable persons, we serve get into housing, it is a great feeling.” 

Operation Safety Net began in 1992 when Dr. Jim Withers, an internal medicine physician with Pittsburgh Mercy, partnered with street-savvy individuals who were formerly homeless, and took medical care out into the streets of Pittsburgh. Funded by a Pittsburgh Mercy Care for the Poor Fund Grant, Operation Safety Net became an official outreach program of the community-based health care system in 1993 and has won national and international awards as an innovative medical and social service outreach program. 

Schnauber Jones joined Pittsburgh Mercy in April 2021 after years of work as an emergency department nurse. As an ER nurse, she enjoyed the fast-paced, ever-changing nature of the work, but missed the opportunity to follow people through their recovery. 

“I felt like I could do more,” she said. “I have the knowledge and compassion inside of me that I couldn’t let out.” 

After earning her master’s in the nurse practitioner program at Carlow in 2019, she began searching for a new opportunity for her nursing career. She saw there was an opening at Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net for a nurse practitioner and, before she applied, she asked her friends and her husband their opinion about the job, and they all encouraged her to go for it. After an interview, she was offered the job and accepted joyfully. 

“The basis of the work is only partly about providing medical care,” she said. “It is about meeting people where they are, establishing trust and building relationships. “It is like a nursing home visit where you are going into someone else’s home. When you provide care for someone who is experiencing homelessness you are going into their comfort zone.” 

Schnauber Jones says that one of the ways that providers can earn trust is by showing up when they say they will. “If you say you will be back in a couple days, you need to come back in a couple days,” she said. “You need to allow space for individuals to be vulnerable without pressuring them. There is a lot you can learn just by listening.” 

As the relationships grow, the people she cares for begin to recognize her, calling her “Nurse Danielle” or sometimes “Doctor Lady,” which she is quick to correct them that she is not a doctor. Either title though means that a relationship is growing. 

Originally from Springboro, Ohio, Schnauber Jones visited Carlow when she was in high school, but while the Mercy values appealed to her, she chose to pursue her bachelor’s degree closer to home. But when she decided to pursue the nurse practitioner program, the choice was clear. 

“I loved Carlow,” she said. “They put the Sisters of Mercy values first. That is also what drew me to Pittsburgh Mercy.” 

After graduating in 2019, she worked as a nurse practitioner in an urgent care facility before joining Pittsburgh Mercy. She continues to have a connection to Carlow as an adjunct clinical instructor in the nurse practitioner program. 

“The work, the education, it has all come together for me. I absolutely love what I do. It is a passion of mine to meet people where they are,” she said. “I’m devoted to the health and well-being of our unhoused neighbors.” 

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