Saturday, April 10, 2010

We get ink!

UW-Eau Claire campus news featured an article (above) that describes some of our experiences.
In public and community health nursing practice, care extends beyond a single patient and includes the family and community as well.
Some theorists recommend approaching the community as "a disciplined stranger." Because a stranger will pay attention to aspects of the environment that others (more comfortable and familiar with the environment) may ignore or overlook.
In our case, we are all "strangers in a strange land" ~ and thus, we hope that our view of the community is fresh and full of meaningful insights.
A "community" may be variously defined as a place (such as the community of Eau Claire) or as a collection of people (such as the community of graduate family health practitioner students).
We have chosen to examine a little of both ~ the community of homeless persons and the area around inner city Washington, DC, where we served.
We will be using a standard nursing approach to community assessment that views the community as a client. Just as a client may be pregnant or not pregnant, a community is ALWAYS about 2% pregnant. And, although we are examining an aggregate rather than an individual, we are focusing upon the aggregate with the goal of deriving a diagnosis(es) for the community and to improve the health of the community.
We look at the physical features of the community first, and then we progress to some of the social aspects. The physical features may include signs, boundaries, age of the community, and so forth. The social features of the community may include persons, such as key informants, who can share information about patterns of behavior in the community.
A comprehensive, careful, and complete community assessment can drive policy, alerting others to the need for social change.
Although we were immersed in the culture for only 5 days, we will endeavor to enlighten you about our perceptions of the community with regard to inner city homelessness. Stay tuned for our community assessments.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bethany's Blog ~ Day 5

Thursday March 18th.....our last day. Today we got to spend some time working directly with the homeless. At Thrive DC, a program that serves meals, offers showers, use of washer and dryer, and hygiene supplies, we prepared food and served the morning meal. Although I was in the kitchen the majority of the time, I did get a glimpse of the prevalence of mental illness within the homeless population. I was amazed at the amount of food that gets prepared and served every single day. When thinking of donating food to the homeless, we realized the importance of really knowing the barriers and needs of the people. They can't be given canned foods such as pasta and sauce because they don't have anywhere to prepare it. I've noticed that often people donate the foods they don't like, or extra foods from their pantries. After seeing and learning what I have in DC, I will picture an individual who might need the food when I donate, and I will donate from the heart. I feel it's important to treat homeless with respect and dignity (like the mission of N Street Village); not like someone who is sub-human who should be happy with every one's unwanted items.

In the afternoon we did some teaching on exercise and nutrition at Christ House, which is a health care facility for homeless individuals who are not sick enough to be kept in the hospital, and not well enough to be out on the streets. The men we met were amazing people. Some are dealing with addiction issues, most had recent surgeries they were recovering from. They are treated very well by staff, and allowed the time they need to recover. The men were very interactive with us, and were happy to share their stories with us. One man talked about how his sense of humor had returned since he has been clean from drugs. He really enjoys seeing people laugh. It makes me wonder how sad it must be living on the streets and dealing with all the troubles that come with it. Everything about being homeless just seems so unhealthy; physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And how ironic that they live such unhealthy lifestyles, and don't have any health insurance to pay for health care. I believe homeless people don't ask to be homeless, and they wouldn't be there if they could help it. It takes a strong person to struggle and suffer the way they do on an ongoing basis. I have learned to acknowledge the homeless, not ignore them or pretend they don't exist, to treat them like equal human beings, and to take the time to learn what their needs are so I can help in an effective way.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bethany's Blog ~ Day 4

Wednesday March 17th. Today was another eye-opening day. Kelly and I had spent the night last night upstairs in the shelter, so we woke the ladies up, helped them with their meds, and made sure everyone was ready and out by 7:30 am. I was pleasantly surprised to see that most all the women were very good about getting themselves ready to go, and several of them were all dressed up and on their way to work. Part of me was worried during the night that maybe the ladies would take advantage of us, since they knew there were new volunteers up there every night. I was also nervous about having to make sure everyone left by 7:30; especially since some of them didn't have anywhere to go. Many go across the street to N Street Village for the day, as they keep opposite hours as the shelter and offer meals, showers, warmth, and activities. The night went smoothly, and I learned so much about the lives of some of the women. One person's story stuck out to me. She is an older Hispanic woman from who has diabetes. She has been coming to the shelter for several months now. Before becoming homeless she lived with her sister and her husband; her only family in the US. She was forced to leave her sister's and not allowed any contact with her after she attempted to stand up for her sister when her husband repeatedly abused her. Her sister chose to stay with the abusive husband. I learned that so many of the women come from situations like this and have no family or friends to help them.

This morning we participated in a Homelessness Simulation. At first it was hard to understand what we were learning from the simulation, but we soon got a glimpse of what it's like for a person to lose their job, home, etc. and how difficult it is to navigate the system to try to get assistance. It's not difficult at all to quickly lose everything; all it might take is an injury that prevents a person from working (lost job), no health insurance (huge debt), no money saved for emergency expenses (no food, utilities, lose home). There are services available such as unemployment, housing assistance, food pantries, etc., but most of them have pages of paperwork that require certain information (many don't have their social security card, drivers license, etc.), to be completed entirely (some don't speak English well, or can't read), long waiting lists, have imcome limits (many people make just over the cut-off limit and therefore do not qualify for assistance), and send people on what seems like an impossible "wild goose chase". Many people don't have the means for transportation and have a difficult time making it to places during hours they are open. This simulation really helps me to be aware of barriers that exist for people who are or are at risk for becoming homeless. I feel people just assume the homeless are simply not trying hard enough, or somehow put themselves in the positions they are in. If something were to happen in my life, I have friends and family I can count on to help me. Many homeless come from abusive or traumatic situations. Many also deal with mental health and/or addiction problems that add yet another layer to their difficulties.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Letter "L"

We began our immersion on a note of gratitude and we end our immersion on the same.

After returning home, the attached card of thanks arrived on my desk.

Though we brought a great many donated items to the homeless women of Washington, DC, we also GAINED a great deal from the experience.

We extend our thanks to the donors from Wisconsin, to the many Washington, DC agencies who opened their doors to us, to the Steinbruck Center (and to Sarah Rossing who helped organize experiences for us) and to the homeless persons who shared their stories with us.

The Letter "L"

I like the poem "Where I'm From" (above, center) because it reminds me that this young woman from Washington, DC has a strong sense of pride in her city and in her roots in the city. The poet, Sharri, is a 4th grade student from one of the inner city public elementary schools in Washington, DC.

Throughout our cultural immersion, it has been tempting to compare "what we have" and "what others don't have"....

Well, what we don't have is an inner city background. Most of us are from small Midwestern towns. And, while each of us holds our background in some degree of esteem, it is important to be reminded of the pride that others have in theirs.

Enjoy Sharri's proud song (reprinted below):

Where I'm from is my mother.

I look out at the city and all I see is the light

shining on me

and the buildings smiling at me

and the people saying hello to me

and the wind blowing at me

and I know I'm in a happy city

Do you know too?

I pick yes for my answer

because cities like DC are somewhere to live

somewhere to do something fun

and have something to say and somewhere to come

and that's the story of where I'm from.

The Letter "L"

Enjoy the picture at the left called, "The Purple Hat." It was painted by a 5th grade student from one of the public elementary schools in Washington, DC.

There seem to be many issues with the educational system in DC. Persons with wealth tend to send their children to private schools or they live outside of the District and their taxes support schools in Virginia or Maryland.

We visited two inner city public schools, and we were all made aware of the importance of standardized test results to the faculty who work there. At one location, parents were actually told that if their children did NOT score well (for whatever reason), the school might be closed and faculty could lose their positions. No pressure, eh?

The Letter "L"

Follow the link above for a spirited article (written by my late husband~ and you know it's powerful) from 2000 that suggests *gasp* mainstream media IGNORES the poor!
While in DC, we learned about a newspaper called "Street Sense" featured above. This paper costs $1.00 and homeless persons are vendors. Poor and homeless persons earn $.65 for each dollar and $.35 goes into production of the news. Articles in the paper are written by and for persons who are poor and needy.
Some of the issues presented in the papers I purchased and perused were pretty surprising. For example, Martin Luther King Library (in the center of the city) is going to be closed on Monday mornings. While this sort of information wouldn't have even caused me to blink (prior to the immersion); following our immersion, I am aware that closure of the library will directly affect homeless persons because they frequent the library in the morning (to get warm, check the computers for job listings, and to read).
In other large cities (such as LA), there are even regulations that prevent persons who smell (of alcohol, body odor, etc) from frequenting libraries. Regulations such as these target homeless persons and restrict their access to libraries, which means even fewer places for them to find safe havens.