The October 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

The Aristocracy and the Disaster

In Katrina's Wake, Oakland Batters Homeless

A Perfect Storm of Racism

Katrina: Ongoing Human Disaster

FCNL Speaks Out on Katrina

Kerry's Kids: Health Care for Poor Children

Fresh Start Gives Kindness Awards

The Dying Gift of Sharon Ostman

A 500-Year-Old War on the Poor

37 Million Live in Poverty in US

Julia Vinograd: Poet Laureate of Berkeley Streets

Innovative Plans for Homeless Housing

Disabled Woman on a Long Road Back Home

Photographer's Eye for the Dignity of People

Poor Leonard On Prejudice

The Flower Lady

October Poetry of the Streets


September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Caring for Kids and Filling a Void

Kerry's Kids fills a significant void of health care for homeless children in Oakland and Berkeley

by Laurie Bostick, MD, Medical Director of Kerry's Kids

Kerry's Kids sends volunteer doctors and nurses in a mobile medical van to homeless programs and shelters to deliver on-site health care to poor and uninsured kids.

Kerry's Kids was established to carry on the dream of Dr. Kerry Spooner Dean, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital and Research Center, Oakland (CHRCO), whose life ended tragically in May of 1998. It was Kerry's dream to organize a mobile health care unit in order to provide health care, health screening, immunizations and health education to homeless and low-income children and their families in the Bay Area.

Kerry understood that homeless children are at risk of developing unique health problems due to their living situations. In fact, children living in homeless shelters are at greater risk of many infections and health problems that can have far-reaching effects on their lives.

The health-related problems faced by these children are worsened by homeless families' limited access to health care. Barriers to accessing care among the homeless include the economic costs of health care, institutional factors that may prohibit homeless families from utilizing existing health care services, language, education, lack of insurance and environmental factors including lack of transportation to health care facilities.

In addition, parents of homeless children often prioritize other needs, such as food and shelter, above accessing health care. By using a mobile van that provides free health care at homeless shelters where families live, Kerry's Kids has been able to overcome many of these barriers.

Homeless families make up over one-third of the estimated 360,000 homeless persons in California. The majority of these families are made up of young, single mothers and their children who are often the victims of domestic abuse or other acute crisis. Estimates suggest that there are between 80,000 and 95,000 homeless children in California today and that the number of homeless mothers and children is on the rise.

Over the past five years, Kerry's Kids has sought to fulfill the unmet basic health needs in the community by providing minor acute health care, well-child care, and immunizations to children living in homeless shelters in Oakland and Berkeley. For the past three years we have worked with the Henry Robinson Center, the Salvation Army Shelter and the Harrison House. This year we have added a new site, Elizabeth House in Oakland, a residence for women and children who have undergone homelessness, addiction and/or violence.

Health risks of being homeless

Because of their unique environment and limited access to health care, children living in homeless shelters have exceptional health problems. As a result of living in crowded shelters with shared facilities, these children are at a higher risk of infectious diseases, including upper respiratory tract infections and gastrointestinal infections. The conditions in which shelter children live also make them more vulnerable to infection in the event of disease outbreaks in the community.

Homeless children are more likely to go without food and are also more likely to eat at inexpensive fast-food restaurants than housed children. As a result, health consequences due to malnutrition, including obesity and anemia, are more common among homeless children than among housed children. Other chronic illnesses suffered by homeless children that can be at least partially attributed to their living environment include asthma and lead poisoning.

For over five years now, the spirit of Kerry Spooner-Dean and her strong commitment to the service of homeless children has continued to inspire dedicated volunteers to carry on her dream of providing health care for these children.

Each week, the Kerry's Kids mobile van, Site Coordinator Katherine Castillo, and a team of volunteer health care providers visits one of the four sites on a rotating basis. Our volunteer teams are led by a strong network of volunteer pediatricians who are dedicated to providing care for under-served children and their families. Pediatric Residents in training and medical students at CHRCO volunteer on the van each week as part of their training.

In addition to our physician volunteers, Kerry's Kids collaborates with Oakland Head Start and volunteers from the University of California, Berkeley, to provide medical care and resources to the children in the four homeless shelters we serve.

Dr. Kerry Spooner-Dean, shown in the above photograph, provides health care to Oakland children in a medical van -- her life's dream before her tragic death.

Kerry's spirit continues to be a driving force in guiding Kerry's Kids to provide essential services to the high-risk, under-served, uninsured children we serve. Kerry's Kids is firmly committed to providing free health care and education to under-served children.

Thus far, through the dedication of our volunteer staff, the donations of private donors, and the Vaccines for Children program, we have been able to provide free acute care, immunizations and physical examinations for the children we serve. In 2004, Kerry's Kids gave a total of 228 vaccinations, and provided health care treatment, school physicals, and WIC screening to 145 uninsured children in transitional housing facilities.

In addition to this, Leo's Legacy, under the direction of Roxanna Martinez, MD, conducted educational seminars to 100 parents and teachers on childhood asthma prevention, dental hygiene care, lead poisoning and nutrition. The Leo's Legacy Program also provided 159 vaccinations and distributed educational materials related to health concerns, as well as donated hygiene materials.

In addition to providing services at our regular sites, over 200 children were seen by Kerry's Kids volunteers and physicians at local health fairs where health education materials, diabetes screening, vaccine screening and hygiene items were distributed.

Currently, Kerry's Kids is the only facility in the East Bay that provides this population of children with access to pediatricians who can address the unique health concerns of children within this homeless population. As such, Kerry's Kids fills a significant void of health care for homeless children.

The developmental problems caused by homelessness

In addition to the health services we are currently providing, we are working to address the developmental issues that often affect children living in shelters. We recognize that, in addition to the health consequences suffered by homeless children, learning disabilities, behavior disorders and emotional problems are also frequently observed in these children.

The psychological effects due to homelessness, including unstable living conditions and the domestic conflicts that may have precipitated homelessness, may significantly affect the development of homeless children.

In addition, poor nutrition, environmental toxins, drug exposure and chronic stress can harm a child's developing brain. Homeless children suffer developmental delays in language skills, cognitive ability and motor skills almost three times as often as housed children.

We are currently working in collaboration with our longtime partner Oakland Head Start, as well as developing new relationships with the Center for the Vulnerable Child and community-based pediatric offices, to increase our families' access to these and other resources and services in the community.

In the coming year, we hope to see our volunteer staff continue to grow so that we may serve more children in need. We also hope to expand the services we are currently providing to our families.

Kerry's Kids will continue to break down barriers to health care and to help our families feel less alienated by medical professionals and the health care system. As Kerry's Kids brings high-quality, free health care and education to under-served children, we hope to become even more instrumental in building connections between the families we serve, community resources and community pediatricians.

Donate to Kerry's Kids

Your support makes a difference in the lives of poor children All contributions are tax deductible and may be sent to:

Kerry's Kids
936B Seventh St. PMB 420
Novato, CA 94945
Please make checks payable to Kerry's Kids.
For more information, visit their website at

A Student's Personal Experience with Kerry's Kids

by Johanna Garcia

My parent's stories of their childhood experiences in El Salvador, where poor children like them barely had enough to eat and did not have adequate health care, initially inspired me to become a doctor.

Upon my arrival at UC Berkeley, I learned about a group called Doctors for Global Health. This was a student group that sought to provide doctors for places like El Salvador. Although I went to conferences and learned more about how I could help those children, I felt as though there was something that needed to be done here in my community too.

I grew up in an under-served community in the United States. My experiences have inspired me to shift my focus to helping children who are in communities similar to mine. Poor children, like the ones I grew up with, also need as much help as those in other countries. And although this is considered to be the "land of opportunity," there are times when these children are forgotten.

My community is very culturally diverse, but I remember feeling uncomfortable when I came into contact with health care providers because of the language and cultural barriers that existed. If there were more doctors with diverse cultures and deeper understandings of those cultures, the barrier between doctor and patient could be breached.

Kerry's Kids has provided me with an opportunity to work with children from a community similar to mine. By working with Kerry's Kids, I was able to shadow and assist a doctor and work with children who reminded me of the kids I knew while growing up.

One of the best experiences I had was translating for a Spanish-speaking family. The parents and child were so thankful and happy I was there to help them communicate with the doctor. I felt so close to them because they reminded me of my own family. I loved the feeling, but I still feel that there is so much more I can do to help children in communities like this. My dream is to become a pediatrician and serve these under-served children. One day I would like to open a clinic where I could help poor children receive adequate health care.

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

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