Boston’s Homeless Women Struggle to Navigate Healthcare System

Spare Change News

Sara Pacelle is the associate director of development at the non-profit Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. The program operates out of a four-story building across from Boston Medical Center. Pacelle says about one-third of the patients the program treats are women.

The first floor of the agency is bustling like a bus terminal. The main area is mostly an open floor plan; people waiting in the lobby sit and watch all the comings and goings. There is a dental care center, an in-house pharmacy, and a “Supportive Place for Observation and Treatment” for those who come into the clinic overdosing.

Their mission is to only offer primary care—any serious conditions, she says, are referred to Boston Medical, in part, thanks to a relationship they have cultivated over the years. “If a woman came in here and we saw that she was in an advanced stage of cancer…we would send her to the hospital,” says Pacelle.

Although her program treats both men and women, Pacelle says women experience unique health care challenges and must be treated accordingly.

“We find that women experiencing homelessness tend to have a lot of other things on their mind, and health is like one of the last things. They have a greater need to survive on the street. There is a lot of violence on the street,” says Pacelle.

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