Mercy expands services to homeless children, teens

Vital health care for the growing number of Baltimore’s homeless families, especially the children, has been elusive at best – until now.

The Mercy Children’s Health Outreach Project (MCHOP) has moved into a brand new $16.5 million facility at Fallsway and Hillen in Baltimore, three blocks from Catholic Charities’ Our Daily Bread.

Known as Health Care for the Homeless, it will be able for the first time to target homeless children who suffer not only from the common health problems that most children face but from the emotional trauma inflicted as a result of their living conditions and – all too often – from domestic violence.

“It will make such a dramatic difference,” said Lisa Stambolis, a staff pediatric nurse practitioner. “We never had a pediatric clinic before and most health care had to be provided at the homeless shelters. We’re really excited about this because the development of pediatric services is so important.”

The new, three-story, 60,000-square-foot building, which received “Green” awards for its design and structure, was made possible by private and public grants. The property itself was sold by the City of Baltimore to MCHOP for just one dollar. The actual move occurred March 15, with a housewarming celebrated 10 days later.

“This new facility is hugely important for providing more comprehensive healthcare for the homeless, especially the children,” said Kevin Lindamood, HCH’s vice president for external affairs. “And, significantly, it will provide room for future growth.”

He noted that much-needed dental care for children can now be provided. Not long ago, a homeless child died as a result of complications from an abscessed tooth which had gone untreated.

Among the health problems homeless children face are asthma, ear infections and skin diseases, Stambolis noted, but, she said, “there are so many mental health issues for which we can now provide family and individual counseling and help deal with behavioral and developmental problems.”

She said some of the children suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and, “you’d be surprised at how many of them express suicidal thoughts.”

One of the many advantages of the new facility is the ability to see and treat “the whole family,” Stambolis said, “whether that’s the mother and her children and sometimes the father or stepfather.”

Given the new potential for more and broader healthcare opportunities, the program has the ability to expand its services to providing treatment for a much neglected segment of the homeless, adolescents.

“Homeless teens have a lot of problems which can be quite complex,” Stambolis said, “and so we now have the opportunity to be able to focus on their needs as well.”

The old, much smaller homeless health care building at 111 Park Avenue simply couldn’t meet the growing needs and, said Lindamood, “sadly we were turning away people,” which is unlikely to be the case with the establishment of the new facility.

Since the early 1980s Mercy, in partnership with Catholic Charities and grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has provided outreach services and health care to the homeless children and families of Baltimore through a network of 30 separate organizations.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.