Indian American dental student Arooba Lodhi, who attends the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, is working with the city’s large homeless population to break the cycle of poverty.
The number of homeless people in Stockton has ballooned from 311 in 2017 to 921 in 2021, according to the Record Net.
"I've been volunteering with the homeless population since coming to Pacific and have been struck by the lack of healthcare opportunities they have to address their basic needs," explained Lodhi in a press statement issued by UoP. "So, I decided to combine my passions for dentistry and social work to bring about positive change to this community."
"It's important for us to see how insufficient access to healthcare intersects with other factors that contribute to homelessness," said Lodhi, a biology and pre-dentistry major, who graduated in May. "People who are socially excluded experience multiple forms of discrimination, stigma and disadvantages. So, we are working to engage these individuals and help provide them with the resources to regain control of their lives," she explained.
Lodhi has worked closely with the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless and San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services to distribute oral care kits to the homeless community. She and fellow UoP students used the kits as a starting point to engage the homeless about oral health and then use a holistic approach to have conversations about issues related to homelessness.
Lodhi is a Pacific Powell Scholar, a recipient of the university’s premier academic scholarship. "As a Powell Scholar, we have the ability to collaborate on projects to enact change in whichever areas interest us," said Lodhi. "I wanted to have the opportunity to make an impact on the community during my college experience."
Past Pacific Powell scholars have taught English as a foreign language in Dimen, China, created a tutoring service dedicated to educating and preparing Stockton students for standardized testing, and helped develop an intensive microgreen growing system for clients at the Calaveras Food Bank.
Dr. Courtney Lehmann, whom Lodhi credits as one of her biggest supporters, said in a press statement: "Arooba is one of the most talented and giving people I’ve ever known. She has worked tirelessly to address the enormous equity gap in preventative oral healthcare by developing a low-pay or no-pay clinic in downtown Stockton both for teaching disadvantaged communities about the importance of oral healthcare and for providing dental hygiene services."
Following graduation, Lodhi said she will remain in Stockton to continue her work with the homeless population and create a foundation that will be a no-pay oral health clinic. She has inspired two other pre-dental majors in the Powell Scholars Program, Nikki Parikh and Aneri Mehta, to join the work she has started. Parikh, Mehta, and Lodhi are looking for donors or corporate sponsors to support their work.
"I like to think that change needs to start at home," said Lodhi. "Pacific has been my home for the last four years, so I need to finish my work in Stockton before I can expand on it."