While thousands of people in Baltimore City remain homeless, uninsured, or under insured, one event this week provided a one-stop shop to residents for dental work, vision care, job searching, and more.
Marisol Plata and Reina Becerra were the first in line outside the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday. They were sitting in lawn chairs and sharing a blanket to ward off the cold.
“We’ve been here since 2 a.m. and now at 6 a.m. they will open,” said Plata.
Behind them, the line stretched down Pratt Street into the dark. Hundreds of people waited for eye exams, prescription glasses, teeth cleaning, tooth extractions, job search assistance, and clothes—entirely free of charge.
“I found out from a friend who knows I have dental problems," said Plata. "So she did me the favor of telling me.”
Roland Jackson was next in line. He’s living in transitional housing after being homeless for a few years and addicted to drugs for 30 years.
“I just got tired I couldn’t do that no more," said Jackson. "I lost the respect of my family my kids and I just hit rock bottom.”
Jackson said he’s hoping to get some help finding a job, getting dental work done, and having his vision checked. Jackson is one of 3000 homeless in the city with no health insurance.
The two-day event is sponsored by the United Way of Central Maryland and Remote Area Medical, or RAM, a non-profit that provides free health care in 70 U.S. cities every year.
And while the event is dubbed Project Homeless Connect, it’s not just homeless people who attended. Almost 12 percent of adults age 18 or older in Baltimore City live without health insurance, according to the city health department. There was stay-at-home mom, Felina Johnson.
“We have insurance, but it just don’t cover certain things that people really need," said Johnson.
And she’s not the only one. Down the line people of diverse backgrounds and ages all faced the same problem. There was retired Lockheed aerospace worker Brian from Dundalk.
“I have a bad toothache and the dentist wants like 200 bucks plus X-ray and I don’t have insurance for dental," said Brian. "So I heard about this and came down yesterday and gave it a shot and so far so good.”
Soon enough, the clock struck six and people were called into the building by numbers on their wrist bracelets.
Anabel Evora, a spokesperson for RAM, explains the process.
“When they come in through the doors they are actually getting registered," said Evora. "Then there we have the triage to make sure the blood pressure is okay. And then this is the dental clinic where we have a hundred dental chairs.”
The dentists are volunteers from the Maryland State Dental Association in collaboration with the staff, faculty and students from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.
Another spokesperson from RAM, Chris Hall, explains the need for this kind of care.
“For the ones that do have insurance it will cover your medical," said Hall. "They will typically have higher deductibles, higher co-pays, but dental and vision isn't typically part of that plan unless it is an emergency service.”
While the state and federal governments are still debating about health insurance Hall says that even with expansions to Medicare and Medicaid "the truth is the need is still there even with the improvements to health insurance plans that are across the country.”
With more than 100 million people living without dental insurance in the U.S., United Way spokeswoman, Danielle Hogan, says people have to make difficult decisions.
“They’re choosing between child care and being in pain and having a tooth pulled," said Hogan. "So often times they’re going to choose the child care.”
A choice that many people in Baltimore won’t have to make this week.