More care, options

Groundbreaking to mark expanded clinic for homeless

August 07, 2008|By Jessica Anderson | Jessica Anderson,Sun Reporter

Gertrude Noel was homeless and bipolar, suffering from a complex set of health problems that helped keep her on the street.

Seventeen years ago, she came to a new Baltimore clinic, Health Care for the Homeless, where she got counseling, treatment for mental illness and drug addiction, and regular checkups. Now her health is improved, her mental illness is under control and she has moved into a home in Charles Village.

"I was worse without them," she said.

Today, as many as 300 people - including Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Sheila Dixon, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings - are expected to celebrate the groundbreaking for a new, expanded clinic. The center, to be built at Hillen Street and Fallsway, will include the only dental care facility for the homeless in the state, according to Health Care for the Homeless officials. It will also feature new pediatric services, an on-site pharmacy to serve patients and other local residents, and the space to serve more clients with 12 treatment rooms and additional classrooms.

"They need a new building," Noel said while at the old Park Avenue clinic this week. "With a new building, you can help more people."

The nonprofit provides various services including medical care, health education, housing assistance and addiction treatment. More than 6,000 different patients visited the clinic last year.

"The number of people in need of our services is rising," said Jeff Singer, the organization's president and chief executive officer.

Patients include the homeless and the unemployed, as well as others who can't afford health insurance, said Kevin Lindamood, the organization's vice president.

Over the past four years, the organization has raised more than $14 million in private donations and funds from the city and the state, toward a $15.5 million goal for the new building, which could open in 2010. Lindamood said the new location had to remain downtown and near public transportation, and the site was convenient because many clients eat at Our Daily Bread, which is a few blocks away.

"It's kind of sad," Lindamood said. "We'd rather not keep growing."

Patients at the clinic this week said they're excited about the planned expansion.

"The care is excellent," said Sharon Bellamy, 51. "The people are very warm."

Lindamood said that 50 percent of the clinic's patients had an addiction, 30 percent had a mental disorder and 25 percent were diagnosed with both.

Noel moved into her Charles Village home several months ago. She said she attributes her recent succes to her mantra, "You've got to help yourself before you can get help." She said she's at the center every day for classes or just to help others.

"She's one of our best outreach coordinators," Singer said.

The organization's Housing First program and her disability assistance have helped Noel pay for her housing.

Noel is just one of the program's successes. Housing First began three years ago by finding housing for 28 people who were sleeping in the park outside St. Vincent de Paul church in downtown Baltimore. Lindamood said that 85 percent of those people are still living in homes. Since its inception, the program has received a federal grant and it continues to grow every day with new clients, he said.

Homeless people are three to four times more likely to die than people who are housed, Lindamood said.

"Housing is health care," Lindamood said. "We can stabilize their condition if we know where to find them."

Lindawood said that most patients have more than one problem and can require intensive care - the 6,000 patients the clinic saw last year accounted for 54,000 visits. He said that clinic physicians see high blood pressure, diabetes and also a high HIV rate, hovering between 9 percent and 12 percent, depending on the year.

Singer and Lindamood say that homelessness in the city is on the rise. As many as 25 percent of patients at the clinic are employed.

"Homelessness itself is a symptom of the broader problem of poverty," Lindamood said.

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