Loyola Magazine

Housing is health care

2013 graduate works to provide services to people experiencing homelessness in Baltimore

If you were struggling on a daily basis to find shelter or feed your children, where would you go to have a cavity filled?

Who could help you get the right medication for a cold or an infection?

In Baltimore, those experiencing homelessness turn to Health Care for the Homeless, where clinicians and staff provide a wide range of services—from dental and medical care to psychiatric care, mental health and addiction services, and convalescent care.

“At our organization, we believe that housing is health care,” said Patrick Diamond, ’13, volunteer manager at Health Care for the Homeless.

“The health issues our clients are dealing with are issues everyone faces, but it gets more complicated when you’re poor and you’re homeless, and you’re also dealing with the daily problem of finding a place to sleep.”

Health Care for the Homeless is dedicated not just to the care of its clients, but also to advocacy, outreach, and educating members of the Baltimore community and beyond on the relationship between poverty and health.

Diamond works to create and nurture partnerships among volunteers, 230 staff members, clients, and community supporters to deepen the organization’s impact.

“Social determinants of health—things like housing, income, social environment—all impact and interact with your health in many ways,” Diamond explained.

Simple solutions

Diamond, who grew up in Portland, Maine, majored in Global Studies at Loyola and served at a number of Baltimore’s shelters and food service programs, including Health Care for the Homeless, through Loyola’s Center for Community, Service, and Justice.

Today he feels lucky to work with an inter-professional team of health care providers, clients from all walks of life, students, researchers, community organizers, and advocates.

“We’re all involved in this work because we know that many aspects of homelessness are undignified and harsh. We also know that the solutions to homelessness are surprisingly simple: affordable housing, health care, and sustainable incomes provide stability required for people to live healthy, productive lives,” Diamond said.

This year, Health Care for the Homeless will provide care to 12,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in Baltimore. Some are living in shelters and supportive housing; others relocate daily to find food and a place to sleep.

“I’m continually energized by my role, in which I convene and coordinate spaces for individuals to get involved with the work to build a more equitable, supportive, and inclusive community. Ultimately, volunteerism is a way that we cultivate support of our organization.”

As Diamond will be the first to tell you, services alone cannot alleviate homelessness and the other complex urban challenges that cities like Baltimore face. Much of the struggle is raising awareness and exposure, cultivating compassion, and developing empathy.

One of the major challenges of working with this population is the stigma that comes with homelessness.

“Everyone’s experience is unique. There are certainly trends that can happen to anyone, because homelessness is largely affected by economic factors and agitated by issues of health,” Diamond explained.

“Anyone who lives and works in Baltimore can interact with these folks through structured activities like volunteerism, or just by talking to people. Despite its ubiquity, homelessness can be an isolating experience. Genuine conversation with our vulnerable neighbors can make a difference.”

Seeking out differences

“It is really easy to overlook how segregated our city is—racially and socioeconomically—despite running into people you know and the small-town feeling that Baltimore has,” said Diamond.

“But that is almost a symptom of how separated we are, that you can so easily run into people you know. Which is why, when we talk about alleviating issues like homelessness, we have to start by leaning into spaces outside our comfort zone and engaging people who are different than we are.”

While he is open about his concerns for the current state of Baltimore’s public institutions—including city government, schools, health care services, and community development—his outlook is positive.

“There is an unbelievable amount of social impact work going on across issue areas and across Baltimore. I hope residents, organizations, and everyone in between keeps their eyes on our city’s leaders to demand accountability, excellence, and quality services befitting of our great city.”