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UCLA Magazine Fall 2003
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Fall 2003
City Of Angels
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"I love having scholarly discussions about literature and neuroscience, and it's great to learn about topics like mental illness and things like that, but you can't fully understand it unless you see it in real life,” says Jo Marie Tran Janco, a senior neuroscience and English major who has been volunteering with the clinic since January 2001 and is now one of the coordinators. "You just don't have a full understanding of how complex these issues are and how difficult it is to enter into someone else's alternate reality unless you have actually talked to someone who is mentally ill.

"It is the same with homelessness,” she continues. "There's a big difference between learning about homelessness in a classroom and seeing it and interacting with it. What we are doing with the clinic is not only directly helping the people we come in contact with, it is practical for those of us who want to go into medicine or public health or social service.”

Every Wednesday evening throughout the year about 16 students and a supervising physician arrive at the corner, unloading tables, chairs, cots, plastic boxes of client records, medical supplies and metal poles and tarps for makeshift examining rooms from the back of a van that they lease from UCLA Transportation Services. The location may be far from the glamour center of Hollywood both in place and spirit, but it is Hollywood nonetheless; the clinic sets up outside a business that manufactures film lights and across the street from an Art Deco fortress built in the '20s by Howard Hughes as a film lab (the precursor to Technicolor was developed there) and now is a climate-controlled warehouse for storage of movie, television, video and audio stock.

For the next four hours, the students will care for 20 or more homeless clients, men and women — and sometimes adolescents and children — who are shunned daily by most everyone else who passes them on the street. But there is no rejection here. Instead, there is nonjudgmental acceptance. Rather than being repelled as so many people are by their dirty skin, shabby clothes and sometimes foul smell, students like Lozares — who was homeless herself for many years, shooting speed and living on the streets of San Francisco before cleaning up and returning to school to earn, at the age of 33, a B.S. degree from UCLA and a chance to go on to med school — treat their clients with dignity and respect. They press whisper-close to talk, putting their hands on an arm, a leg, a shoulder, speaking comforting words, asking questions about their health, their lives, their friends, their families whom they may not have seen in many years — going so far, in some instances, to help them reunite with faraway loved ones.

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