Local nurse to the homeless is also a housing advocate

June 12, 2009
By

VICKI RITTERBAND

For nurse Mary Ann Kopydlowski, the political is personal, and it’s what fuels her work as a nurse with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) and as a board member of the Jamaica Plain-based afford-able housing advocacy organization City Life/Vida Urbana.

“I believe passionately that working for social justice and delivering health care to underserved people is the right thing to do,” said Kopydlowski, who has lived in Jamaica Plain since 1980.

Kopydlowski began working with BHCHP in 1999, after spending a decade as a visiting nurse in inner-city Boston and then a year delivering care on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. When she returned from the Southwest, she heard from a former colleague who was now on the staff at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, that the organization was looking for nurses at its respite care facility, the Barbara McInnis House. She began working as a fill-in nurse, and less then a year later she was a full-time staffer.

These days, Kopydlowski divides her time among three of the 81 sites where BHCHP delivers care. The 24-year-old non-profit treats more than 11,000 homeless men, women and children a year at its hospital- and shelter-based clinics, as well as at soup kitchens, Suffolk Downs race track, on the streets and in count-less other places where homeless people gather.

At the three clinics where Kopydlowski works—Massachusetts General Hospital, the BMC clinic at Jean Yawkey Place and the Woods-Mullen Shelter— she triages patients, administers flu shots, treats minor ill-nesses, teaches patients how to care for their chronic illnesses and helps them fill out forms for housing, disability benefits and other social services.

“I love the work because it’s so collaborative,” Kopydlowski said. “At BHCHP, all of the different disci-plines work together—case managers, registration staff, nurses, social workers, nurse practitioners and phy-sicians. We can’t do our job without the other people, and even the patients are often very involved in their own care.”

Kopydlowski says there are a lot of misperceptions about homelessness that would be corrected by spending a little time with her at work. “My patients are homeless not because they’re bad people, not because there is something wrong with them, but for economic reasons. And a lack of affordable housing is a big reason in a place like Boston.”

That’s where her work with City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) comes in. For 36 years, the bilingual, multicul-tural organization has been protecting the homes of low-income tenants through organizing. As foreclosures have threatened more and more working class neighborhoods in Boston, CLVU is focusing on helping owners and tenants who have become victims of this economic trend.

Besides her work as a board member, Kopdylowski has helped CLVU fundraise, sat on strategic planning com-mittees, volunteered in the office, participated in demonstrations and attended many events.

“Boston Health Care for the Homeless helps people after they become homeless,” says Kopydlowski. “City Life/Vida Urbana prevents them from becoming homeless. The work goes hand in hand.”

The writer is the media coordinator for Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP). To learn more about BHCHP, visit www.bhchp.org.

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