May 28, 2022


Keep Fit & Healthy

New Boston health clinic for homeless women helps address gaps in care

3 min read

Homeless women seeking health care of nearly any kind along with housing assistance or even a simple gift card to buy groceries can now walk into a new clinic downtown and get the personal attention they often lack.

“It’s nice in between doctors’ visits to get some help,” said client Nancy Harlow, 63, who walked into the clinic earlier this week to get a quick check of her blood pressure, heart and lungs.

Dr. Roseanna Means, who founded Health Care Without Walls in 1999, did the check-up, telling Harlow, “I think you’re a strong person … you’re doing a great job taking care of yourself.”

Harlow has been living in a shelter for about two years ever since her husband had to go into a nursing home. Soon, she will have permanent housing again.

Health Care Without Walls previously worked out of various local shelters such as Rosie’s Place, and now has a place to call its own for the very first time.

Means gave Harlow a CVS gift card to buy essentials and soon pivoted to another client, 24-year-old Kimberly Velazquez, who came in with her newborn baby Michael to seek help finding permanent housing.

Velazquez said she’s staying in a shelter in Dorchester and needs some clothes for the baby, so Means gave her a Target gift card.

Health Care Without Walls opened up the new location earlier this month and plans to see 20-30 patients a day with the help of volunteer doctors who work on a rotating shift.

Means said women come in with any number of issues from a sexual assault, to wound care, to maintenance of chronic disease.

Means calls it “gap care,” which is help between appointments with a primary care provider. The clinic also provides T passes, cab rides, help with Medicaid and connections to other health care providers.

Means, who specializes in women’s health care, said she wants to provide a personal touch for the women, who have often experienced street trauma.

“Nobody holds them or hugs them,” she said.

There are around 3,000 to 4,000 homeless women in Boston, said Means, and they have special needs compared to men.

“The women are really suffering,” she said.

Health Care Without Walls serves about 2,000 women each year and provided thousands of coronavirus screenings at Rosie’s Place last year. Means said that during the peak of the pandemic, about one in three homeless women she was seeing tested positive for COVID-19.

Means said some women come in every day and start to feel like family, “The personal safety is a big one for the women and that’s just because street life for these women is not safe, and they are outside a lot.”

Means has dedicated her life’s work to helping women. She is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and also works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In 2011, she was named a CNN Hero.

The Health Care Without Walls clinic will have a grand opening in the fall with state and local officials. It is currently open three days a week and will soon be open five days a week.

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