The Telegraph Avenue and Shattuck Avenue corridors in Berkeley are meccas for homeless and street-identified youth from around the country. Disenchanted, neglected and runaway youth congregate in Berkeley because of its long history of social activism and for being an inclusive and welcoming place. Despite this image, until just a few years ago there were almost no actual resources available within the city of Berkeley to serve the specific needs of hard-to-reach street-identified youth, due in part to a reluctance amongst this population to deal with the bureaucratic intake and formal processing methods of more traditional institutions.
The city of Berkeley estimates that youth between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three account for 100-200 of the homeless people in Berkeley on any given day. Youth that live on the street are extremely vulnerable to suicide, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, traumatic injuries, and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Existing health care and social service providers in Berkeley report that teenage pregnancy, asthma, infestations, and wound care are other important health issues among Berkeley’s street youth.
Decreasing the incidence of these conditions would not only help the street youth, but benefit the health of the entire community as well. Berkeley has several nonprofit organizations that provide health care services to homeless and uninsured individuals. Each of these organizations has found that youth are reluctant to access their services for a variety of reasons. These include the presence of adults, a lack of trusting relationships with providers, an adult- rather than youth-oriented culture, and inconvenience in terms of time and location.
In July 1997, the Berkeley Chaplaincy to the Homeless began a drop-in center for homeless youth that now serves 20-50 youth per day. Their services include food, recreation, counseling, advocacy and health care. This program has been extremely successful at establishing trust with the youth and providing needed services. In 1998, the Chaplaincy approached the Suitcase Clinic, a UC Berkeley-sponsored, student- and volunteer-run organization with a request to assist in the establishment of a homeless youth-focused health services clinic and drop-in center similar to the existing Suitcase Clinic sites.
The Suitcase Clinic and several other organizations worked to recruit a multidisciplinary team of volunteers and paid staff to provide health and social services, advocacy, and counseling together under one roof for a weekly evening drop-in center for homeless and street-identified youth. Over $10,000 in funds were secured for the Youth Clinic project and partners have made commitments to participate in this effort. The Suitcase Clinic was proud to open the doors to its Youth Clinic in September of 2000, making it the most recent of our drop-in centers. The Youth Clinic strives to provide culturally appropriate and youth accessible services to homeless and street-identified youth which simultaneously increases their opportunities for positive social and physical well-being.
There is no formal intake process; clients only need to check in with a Clinic Coordinator in order to request the services they would like to receive.
- Personal hygiene services
- Arts and Crafts
- Food, including weekly dinners
- Acupuncture involves a certified acupuncture specialist who uses small needles to restore the body’s harmony and balance, and make the body’s energy flow normally again.
- Medical services (biweekly)
- Health Education and referrals
- Chiropractic (biweekly) services provide adjustments given by volunteer professional chiropractors from the community. They mostly treat clients who suffer from minor back pain. Treatment consists of a chiropractic adjustment (directed and controlled pressure of individual spinal bones to their specific positions). Other additional treatments include ice, heat, nutritional advice, and exercise
- Optometry (appointment referrals) provides a preliminary eye examination for clients at the drop-in center site given by graduate students in the UCB School of Optometry. Clients needing glasses as diagnosed and then scheduled for a full eye examination at the Meredith W. Morgan University Eye Center on the Berkeley campus.
- Basic counseling and social services
- Educational Services
- Foot Care has volunteer students provide gentle podiatric care, hand out nail clippers, emery boards and anti-fungal to our clients, who often walk for hours and have limited access to showers
- Continuity of Care Advocates (CoCA)
- Herbal Medicine