Berkeley Free Clinic
The Berkeley Free Clinic was founded in 1969 as a grassroots “street medicine” clinic. A group of activists wanted to respond to an overwhelming need for healthcare in the absence of state and federal programs and services. Since the Clinic opened, there has been an ever-present need for its services, albeit a dynamic need, as social conditions have undergone shifts and changes. It has become something of an icon in the area, and has served countless thousands in a variety of ways during its long history. Its founding principles and structures survive to this day:
Healthcare is a basic human right and should not be linked to profit.
Fees have never been charged for any services, medications, or supplies provided at the Berkeley Free Clinic. The Clinic relies solely on individual or organizational donations and government support. We are one of the only clinics in California offering health care free of charge. We maintain that healthcare should be available at a level and quality sufficient to meet the basic needs of everyone regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, immigration status, income level, or any other characteristic. Our philosophy is that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. We are strongly opposed to health care delivery as a profit-making industry.
A great deal of health care knowledge can and should be available and accessible to individuals such that they can have the power to recognize and respond to their own health issues.
All services at the Berkeley Free Clinic emphasize education, self-knowledge, and increasing awareness and access to appropriate resources. Whenever possible, our goal is to demystify health care and other human services, both for the volunteer members of the Clinic and for clients. We believe that individuals and communities should be educated and empowered with regard to their healthcare. In practice, this means that we emphasize education and offer referrals to help meet any needs that are outside the scope of our services. We attempt to include our clients in their own care by inviting their input and observations, and by fully describing possible solutions to their concerns.
Healthcare should be broadly defined and considerate of the whole being and environment, not simply a response to isolated symptoms.
We view health as encompassing the total well- being of a person including physical, emotional, and environmental needs. In all our services, we strive to relate to clients as human beings, each with unique circumstances, resources and needs. Our healthcare providers involve clients as thoroughly as possible in the health care process in order to best educate and develop appropriate plans for each individual. One of our major issues of concern has been the balance of control in the provider-client interaction. Much of our struggle has been to develop alternatives to the tendency in the human-service industry to require that the client give control of the management of her physical and mental health into the hands of "experts" taken on faith. Confidentiality is another major sub-issue within that broader issue of control. Our volunteer-controlled collective has voted to sacrifice many hundreds of thousands of dollars in available government funding opportunities which would have required that our clients' identity and personal histories --including whatever labels have been slapped onto them by professionals -- be shared with government funding sources and other programs.
In keeping with the goals of individual empowerment and the building of healthy communities, we believe locally-based organizations should enable worker participation and responsibility. The Berkeley Free Clinic has operated as a worker’s collective since its inception. Every volunteer has membership in the collective, and has the right to a voice and a responsibility to vote in all decision making processes that affect both their specific service area as well as the entire Clinic. Many of these Clinic volunteers move on to further their knowledge and contribution in the area of health in a variety of capacities throughout the local area, the country, and the world.