Illustration by Kristin Talley.

UC Santa Cruz third-year Sophia Petraki is at the forefront of a mission to bring a mobile clinic to Santa Cruz. The clinic would provide medical and hygienic services for Santa Cruz residents who are homeless, uninsured or financially unstable.

The clinic is mobile because there is no set location for its services yet. Petraki and her team of students plan to hold the clinic at different venues for each event. The first event will be held March 19 on Evergreen Street.

“We’re just students trying to do what we can to bring a little more compassion into this world,” said Iman Barre, a second-year health sciences major who is part of the Care project. “We’re taking small steps to hopefully bring about some significant, lasting change.”

The project was inspired by a Berkeley mobile clinic called the Suitcase, Petraki said. The Suitcase was started 20 years ago by a medical student and a pre-medical student from UC Berkeley. They went to the homeless people of Berkeley equipped with nothing but a suitcase full of basic medical supplies and offered their services.

“I came across Berkeley’s Suitcase clinic online and felt that there was a similar need here,” Petraki said. “[The Suitcase] has three clinics: the women’s clinic, youth clinic and general clinic. We are hoping to make the Santa Cruz chapter.”

To raise funds for the cause, the students applied for the Community Service Project grant at the Student Volunteer Center. The organization’s community aid and resources project is all done through the Student Organizations Advising and Resources office at UCSC.

The project is being sponsored by the Homeless Health Project and the Homeless Service Center of Santa Cruz.

“We will provide locations for the clinic,” said Megan Carlson, volunteer coordinator for the Homeless Services Center. “I will be working with Sophia to give help and support to the homeless population of Santa Cruz.”

About 2,260 people — 1 percent of the total population — are homeless in Santa Cruz, according to the 2009 Santa Cruz County Homeless and Census Survey.

Petraki, who is a molecular cell development biology major, wants to be a doctor but would also like to be a medical research scientist. The 34 students she has enlisted to work at the mobile clinic are of all grades and majors, though most study science.

Petraki plans to use the mobile clinic to offer a variety of free services like haircuts, job fairs and foot washes.

“A nurse at Dominican hospital said that a big issue for homeless people is being able to take care of their feet,” Petraki said. “Not having shoes and the difficulty of maintaining hygiene are big causes of illnesses that can befall [homeless people].”

The homeless center in downtown Santa Cruz has places for people to bathe, but no products with which to wash. One of the goals of the Care project is to fundraise and provide people with those products.

“By giving our basic services and being mobile we can find out what is needed,” Petraki said. “Our goal is to fill in the gaps of what other clinics aren’t providing, like the free services.”

Another philanthropic endeavor in Santa Cruz is the Project Homeless Connect, a fair held once a year.

The event makes available booths that offer opportunities for people to get a doctor’s appointment, a dentist’s appointment, a birth certificate, a driver’s license or prescription eyeglasses. Petraki’s goal for the Care Project is to have this kind of event, but more frequently than once a year.

The project already has two medical assistants, an emergency medical technician and a doctor lined up, all working free of charge.

Petraki and her team held a fundraiser for the project at Woodstock’s Pizza on Feb. 17, and they plan to hold more fundraisers in the future. They also want to hold a dinner somewhere downtown as a way to draw homeless people in and get them talking about their health.

“[The Care project] shines a light on the issues of healthcare and employment for homeless people,” Petraki said. “It brings awareness, which is the only way these issues will be solved.”