Reflection: Supporting families who are experiencing homelessness

By Caitlin Cobau, '19

Caitlin Cobau, ’19, reflects on volunteering with Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore. She originally wrote this piece for Writing about the Environment, taught by Terre Ryan, Ph.D., assistant professor of writing.

It is 10 in the morning at Health Care for the Homeless in downtown Baltimore, where I serve weekly as a child watch intern. Rather than sitting in the library, I am walking back and forth, cradling a baby in my arms.

This 5-month-old is looking up at me with big brown eyes and though he is little, he has dimples when he smiles. He can’t speak yet, but he can laugh. And his soft chuckle gets louder when I reveal my face in peek-a-boo.

After rocking him in my arms for a few minutes, his eyes slowly close. Before I know it, I am holding a sleeping baby in my arms. Upon first glance, little Peter is like any other child.

But the sad reality is that when he leaves the clinic with his 19-year old mother, he will not go home.

Homelessness is especially prevalent in Baltimore. In Maryland, 500,000 people experience homelessness per year while in Baltimore alone, more than 2,500 people experience homelessness. Health Care for the Homeless provides medical care, dental care, and even psychiatric care for these people. Patients can make appointments or just walk in, and transportation to an appointment is never a problem with cab vouchers and car services.

I am gaining innumerable experiences from this internship that will prove helpful in my future career as a pediatric nurse. Volunteering has been extremely rewarding, and it is something that I look forward to every week.

My job consists of working directly with children, whether they are at the clinic for their own illness or for their parents’ health. Often single mothers will meet with our social worker privately, and I entertain and watch the children so that their mothers have the time and space necessary to figure out a healthcare plan. This also helps a mother’s mental health if she is exhausted and frustrated with parenting.

My supervisor and I have discussed the importance of simply talking to and interacting with children. Several of the parents we see are glued to their phones and only address their children to scold them. I talk to the children and engage them in games that help their cognitive development.

On a chilly October Monday, I was coloring with a 7-year-old boy named Mark and talking to him about his Halloween costume. He was there with his little sister, a girl barely even a year old, in a car seat beside him. His mother was in the doctor’s office with her third child, and I was watching these two.

Between telling me about his ninja costume and all of his favorite candy, Mark paused to look admiringly at his little sister. When she began to wail out and cry for “Mommy!” the boy softly sang to her. His voice was beautiful and she looked up at him smiling, immediately comforted. It was so touching to see how the love of family cannot be disrupted despite unstable housing conditions.

My work at Health Care for the Homeless has given me first hand insight to the lives of homeless people, which has inspired me to help in any way possible.

Information on homelessness taken from “Homelessness in Baltimore.” Health Care for the Homeless – Baltimore and Maryland, Health Care for the Homeless, 2017.


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