In the summer of 1989, first-year students in the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program (JMP), including current Dean Michael Lu, put their heads together to develop a program to address the health needs of Berkeley’s homeless and low-income population. They conducted a community needs assessment and came up with the idea of a clinic that would meet clients in the community. The students originally carried medical and other supplies in suitcases, and hence the Suitcase Clinic was born.
Thirty years later, JMP students continue to offer medical services at three multi-service drop-in centers throughout the city, and these clinics are operated by UC Berkeley undergraduate students who offer a variety of health-related and social services. Those three centers under the Suitcase Clinic umbrella — the General Clinic, the Womxn’s Clinic, and the Youth/LGBTQ+ Clinic — are aimed at addressing specific community needs. But beyond addressing medical needs, the nearly two dozen JMP and 100 undergraduate student volunteers who operate these clinics are committed to fostering community.
Last month, these volunteers held a 30-year anniversary event at People’s Park, a central location for many of the city’s homeless population that have received medical and mental health services from the Suitcase Clinic throughout the years. “If you’re hungry and it’s cold and rainy, if you go to People’s Park, someone will take care of you, one way or another,” says Corky Schweizer, a Suitcase Clinic client.
“The theme of the Solidarity Party was ‘Save People’s Park,’” said Anjali Vadhri, an internal director for The Suitcase Clinic. “One of the only green spaces on Southside, a safe space, and a symbol of free speech, People’s Park has a rich and dynamic socio-political history. We intended to not only preserve the meaning of the Park but also communicate it to the general public by uniting our community through this event.”
People’s Park has been at the center of debate since the UC campus recently slated the site for development into student housing. But JMP students see People’s Park as a place to break barriers between communities, to gather with the city’s underserved populations and continue the legacy of the Suitcase Clinic.
“It is inspiring to reflect on how much the Suitcase Clinic has grown over the past 30 years and the positive impact it has created. Our work helps foster community and heal the community,” says Raj Fadadu, an executive director of the medical division at The Suitcase Clinic. “It has been a pleasure to collaborate with the undergraduate students who keep the organization running and are dedicated to health equity.”