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The Suitcase Clinic is a humanitarian student organization that has offered free services and supplies to the uninsured, homeless and low-income communities of the San Francisco Bay Area since 1989.



Founded in the summer of 1989 by a group of first year students of the University of California, Berkeley-University of California, San Francisco Joint Medical Program, the Suitcase Clinic was designed to provide specialized services to a population which was receiving inadequate health care. Originally a mobile clinic traveling by van directly to the clients, the present organization now operates out of three drop-in centers, and is structured around the principles of public health, social welfare, community activism and empathy. The organization embodies a holistic view of health, considering physical, mental, emotional and social well-being as equally necessary.


Staffed on an entirely volunteer basis by a variety of students and professionals from throughout the Bay Area, the organization is administered by undergraduates, with policy decided upon through consensus via the central Planning Committee legislative organ. Participating undergraduates are either currently enrolled in, or have already completed, a training and certification course offered by the Health and Medical Sciences Program at the University of California, Berkeley. Medical students operate out of the five-year UCB-UCSF Joint Medical Program, and optometry students hail from the UC Berkeley School of Optometry at Minor Hall. Professionals from within both the city of Berkeley, CA and the university cooperate with these students in order to offer medical, chiropractic, legal, and social assistance to a clientèle that is seventy-percent homeless.

The fundamental agents of the Suitcase Clinic are the undergraduate caseworkers, who serve as indispensable advocates for the clientèle. They are responsible for recording the social history of their client, and for ensuring that their client has received the services desired. Additional roles include establishing and maintaining positive relationships, making referrals to other agencies, providing follow-ups, fostering a non-judgmental social environment, and taking an active interest in the welfare of the client and community. Services currently offered by the three drop-in centers include health care, medication, physical examinations, hygienic supplies, vision screening, legal counsel, meals, feet washing, chiropractic, hairdressing and massage therapy.


The Suitcase Clinic is an umbrella organization comprising five unique subdivisions:


General Clinic

The General Clinic is the oldest of the Suitcase Clinic's three drop-in centers, and receives up to forty clients per night on average. Clients often walk for hours daily and have limited access to showering facilities. Here, they can receive feet washing, podiatry, nail clippers, emery boards, antifungal creams and sprays, and clean socks. Dental services consist of teeth cleanings, and chiropractic services provide adjustments given by professionals. Haircutting is performed by students, who also dispense general health education and referrals for housing and insurance. Legal counsel, generally pertaining to overdue warrants, landlord-tenant disputes, and applying for financial assistance, is provided by volunteers from the East Bay Community Law Center. Medical services offer basic care and education, on-site treatment, health consultations, referrals, and free influenza vaccinations during the flu season. Medication and supplies can be issued at the discretion of the on-site physician if necessary. Optometry services perform preliminary eye examinations for clients, and if glasses are necessary, they can be provided to the client at no cost.

Women's Clinic

The Women's Clinic opened during the fall of 1996 with the intent of further reaching out to the low-income, homeless, neglected, and abused women and children who had previously formed a minority at the General Clinic. This branch offers unique resources such as homeopathy, manicure, and children's services, and cares for roughly thirty clients per night on average.

Youth Clinic

The Youth Clinic is the most recently established drop-in center, having opened in September 2000. It is tailored specifically towards the Bay Area's homeless and street-identified youth, and popular resources include acupuncture, regularly held dinners, and arts and crafts. The city of Berkeley is a frequent destination for disenfranchised and neglected youth, due to the city's long history of social activism and inclusiveness. Despite this image, there are few actual resources available within the city 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 traditional institutions. The city of Berkeley estimates that youth between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three account for 100-200 of the homeless population within the city, and youth living on the street are extremely vulnerable to suicide, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, traumatic injury, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, teenage pregnancy, asthma and infestations.


SHARE, an acronym for "Searching How to Achieve Respect and Empowerment", was officially launched in May 1996. It is a discussion and advocacy group with the goal of strengthening the solidarity of the Suitcase Clinic's diverse community. Lead by trained student facilitators, SHARE provides a uniquely open forum, allowing clientèle to discuss current affairs and exchange opinions with student volunteers through presentations, movies, community participation and political action.

Health and Medical Science 98/198

Health and Medical Science 98/198 is a course offered at the university which provides the training requisite for the undergraduate students who oversee the Suitcase Clinic. Students interested in public health, in social welfare, in cultivating empathy and compassion, and in working with the homeless or other underserved populations are ideal for this course. The first six weeks cover caseworker training, and the remainder of the semester is spent addressing specific topics such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, and personal accounts of homelessness.

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