Health Center For Homeless Opens Today

February 01, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Days before Healthcare for the Homeless was to open its new center on Baltimore's Fallsway, clients of the 25-year-old nonprofit already were lining up for services.

Today, the organization will begin caring for them in its new $15.5 million, 60,000-square-foot building, which more than triples the space of its now-closed Park Avenue offices.

"We are all so excited about this jewel of a building," policy director Barbara DiPietro said. "It will be so uplifting for our clients."

For organization President Jeff Singer, the move means "we are all together in one place with no satellite offices. Our people have adequate space to work with our clients efficiently and effectively."

The move also means that the organization's outreach team can interview clients in surroundings more appealing than the vault in the basement of the former bank that HCH had occupied since 1991. The eye clinic moves from a van that parked in an alley to a fully equipped suite. Staff can offer art therapy, yoga classes and education programs from well-appointed rooms, most of which can be subdivided to accommodate the size of a group.

Clients can meet privately with counselors, undergo medical evaluations at clinics and have prescriptions filled at the on-site pharmacy. Nearly all the essentials for the dental and pediatric clinics, both additions, are in place and will be ready for patients within a few months.

The youngest clients, who are increasingly part of the homeless population, will have a separate entrance to the child-centered area on the third floor.

"Fundamentally, from here, we will be able to address health care needs for the entire family," said Kevin Lindamood, vice president of external affairs. "We continually have had more work to do; now we have more physical space to do it in."

Founded in 1985, Healthcare for the Homeless serves more than 7,000 clients with a staff of 131 - with plans for both numbers to increase.

"We expect our clients to grow by 20 percent in the first two years and ultimately double," Lindamood said. "In this economy, more people are experiencing homelessness and need our services."

The brick building boasts environmental design features including a roof partially planted with sedum, brick walls, durable surfaces, rubber-tiled floors and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. Nearly 90 percent of the construction waste is to be reused, not dumped in a landfill, and much of the furnishings are used, Lindamood said.

Clients will enter the first floor from a wide, covered porch. They can give their information in private cubicles and wait in comfortable surroundings, many of which will be decorated with clients' artwork. The second floor fans out from a hub of clerical desks to three pods, each with four examining rooms and an area for interviewing patients.

At its official grand opening in March, the building will be named for Harry and Jeanette Weinberg, the largest private donors to the project. City, state and federal dollars also helped in the expansion, which has been six years in the planning with the last two in construction.

The move took two days last week. The staff spent much of this past weekend unpacking and putting work spaces in order. HCH will be serving clients today and has already scheduled appointments, he said.

"This is our 25th year and we always hoped to put ourselves out of business," Lindamood said. "Instead, we have had to grow, but we are glad that we can provide more services to get the homeless off the streets."

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