In less than a week, the story received nearly 500,000 engagements across the Global Citizen website and social media. The massive interest in the story demonstrates how compelling and personal WASH for women are for so many people in the US and around the world. Period-health seems particularly important.Read More
As an offensive lineman for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, Joshua Garnett excels in one of the most macho cultures in the US, but he’s using his platform to tackle an issue long treated as too gross or too uncomfortable for men to talk about — periods and menstrual hygiene.
Garnett has teamed up with his sister Rachel’s organization Kitty Packs to help homeless women who experience “free bleeding,” which is what happens when a woman is unable to access expensive sanitary pads or tampons to manage her period.Read More
If we start with the premise that housing is a basic human right we cannot accept homelessness. It's simple. And yet not one municipality in the country considers permanent housing a human right.
New York City is going through a humanitarian crisis with more than 60,000 people staying in municipal homeless shelters each night. In addition, countless others experience housing instability but are not counted in the official homelessness figures because they're not logged by a city agency. They crash with friends, family, acquaintances and strangers or they sleep on the street or the subway or church steps.
But it could be worse. New York City, at the very least, provides shelter to anyone who needs it. It is the only municipality in the country that guarantees shelter to anyone in need based on a 1979 ruling known as Callahan v. Carey, after the lead plaintiff - a homeless man - and the then-governor of New York.
Seattle is also experiencing its own homeless crisis right now. More than 12,700 people live on the streets, in cars, in dangerous encampments or in shelters. A study conducted by Zillow rates Seattle as having the third highest homeless population in the country after only New York and Los Angeles. Seattle is more than ten-times smaller than New York.
Moon said she does support a mandate. Durkan proposes 700 new shelter beds but said she does not support a legal right to shelter.
The effect, she said in a statement, would be “diverting millions of dollars in scarce resources to warehousing people experiencing homelessness in sometimes degrading shelters rather than providing people the housing they need to permanently exit homelessness."
I hear what she's saying - shelters are notoriously nasty and potentially dangerous. But why do they have to be?
More importantly, why build and guarantee shelters when we can build and guarantee housing?
We severely limit our thinking and capacity for innovation when it comes to homelessness, here in New York City and across the country in Seattle. We allow shelters to remain dirty and dangerous, even as families with children comprise the majority of the homeless population.
We say the city doesn't have enough money to build affordable housing for the homeless, but we don't seem to analyze whether that's true. Or what it would take to build housing. We dismiss the idea as unrealistic — it's not. We just don't have the will to accomplish it.
We point to NYCHA and say city-operated housing is inevitably crappy and unsafe. But it doesn't have to be. We don't have the will to fix and maintain public housing.
We need to expand our thinking and consider how the city can compel private developers to build truly affordable housing. Or how the city can build the housing itself.
Expanding our minds also means that we cannot accept subhuman conditions for people in homeless shelters as though it's a natural phenomenon.
Homelessness is not natural; it's a human-made crisis. One that we could address immediately — if only we had the will to.
But right now, it's news when a long shot candidate in Seattle musters the will to pledge temporary shelter for all.
I noticed two stories about voting among the homeless this week that reminded me of my experience organizing a voter registration drive at an organization that serves homeless teenagers and young adults. The first, in City & State, asks the question "Do the Homeless Vote?" and details the various barriers – including polling site confusion and inconsistent addresses – that can prevent homeless people from heading to the polls in New York City. In the second, "I'm Homeless and I Vote" - from the Seattle magazine The Stranger - a former business owner who is now homeless in the Seattle area describes the experience of modern homelessness and the lack of response from politicians to the root causes of homelessness like poverty and limited affordable housing.
From City & State:
The homeless often move in and out of homelessness, and by definition often do not have a fixed residence, but [the National Coalition for the Homeless] estimates that only 10 percent of homeless people actually vote in a presidential election. Among the U.S. population as a whole, it’s about 60 percent.
Income statistics reveal an unsurprising trend. New Yorkers in households making less than $25,000 a year, which includes many homeless people, made up 21 percent of the state’s population in 2014, but less than 15 percent of its voters.
When I worked at a drop-in center for homeless LGBTQ teenagers and young adults in Northern Manhattan, I organized a month-long voter registration drive in Spring 2016, just in time for the New York State presidential primaries. I printed a bunch of voter registration forms and went table to table during breakfast and lunch encouraging people to sign up. I ended up registering about 25 people, including a few staff members, and I used agency postage to mail the forms before the primary deadline. It was easy to do, but it was one of the most satisfying things I've accomplished in my social service career.
Skepticism was a problem. Many of the young people parroted the familiar "What's the point? My vote doesn't matter" refrain. I couldn't blame them — they were mostly gay and trans people of color kicked out of their homes and discriminated against because of their identities. Many were skeptical that a politician would genuinely represent them.
Sometimes, however, peer pressure overwhelmed their guardedness. Excited teenagers won over those lunchtime companions who affected a hardened cynicism.
The other, much more tangible problem was what address the young people should include on their registration form. Some stayed at the drop-in center overnight when there was space. Others lived in transitional housing or engaged in survival sex, spending the night with strangers in exchange for sex. Meanwhile, others crashed with friends or slept on the street and in the subway. Overall, few maintained consistent addresses. The City & State piece addresses this issue.
I recommended that the individuals without a stable address list the address of the drop-in center or a friend's house where they often stayed.
One young transgender man was particularly excited to vote. For a few weeks leading up to the election, he discussed the research he was doing and the tough decision of whether to vote for Bernie or Hillary.
Yet, on election day, he seemed reluctant to visit the polling place. I reminded him how excited he had been for weeks, but he still seemed apprehensive. It took me a little while to realize that he was nervous to vote for the first time. He wanted some support.
So I said I wanted to check out the energy near the polling place and suggested I walk over with him. He agreed to accompany me and we walked a few blocks to a school. As we approached, I told him how to check in to the table by last name and that he didn't need to show ID. I remembered the first time I voted when I was 18 — I also felt scared to try something new, to make a mistake, to be an adult.
Finally, the young man started to walk inside and I told him I'd see him when he returned to the drop-in.
"You're not going to wait for me?" he asked, betraying his apprehension.
"Na, you don't need me," I said. "You've already done the work getting here."
He laughed nervously, said I was right and walked inside.
A half hour later, he returned to the drop-in center bubbling with energy. He showed off his 'I Voted' sticker and shared the experience with other clients, encouraging them to register and vote in November's general election.
It was beautiful.
So how to replicate this experience, especially among young people and new voters?
We have to make it easier for transient individuals to update an address and we have to provide support on Election Day. Bureaucracy and governmental proceedings can be intimidating, especially for people long screwed by policy and by those in power. We always hear that we 'should' go vote, but we rarely hear about the actual (pretty simple) process.
Here are two solutions:
1.) Make voter registration a part of the intake process at shelters, social service organizations and supportive housing sites.
2.) Go to the polls as a team. Social service staff can rally a group of new voters to serve as a support system, arrange a time to head to the polling place and get an experienced voter to lead them.
A friend asked me that a while ago and I struggled to articulate a succinct answer. I talked about HIV's direction correlation with poverty and about discrimination against people of color and LGBTQ individuals who experience HIV/AIDS at a vastly disproportionate rate. I talked about the government's campaign of fear, neglect and prejudice at the onset of the crisis and the stigmatizing that persists 30+ years later.
I work at four sites for formerly homeless adults with HIV/AIDS so it was important for me to better explain the reason why people with HIV/AIDS deserve a strong safety net and government assistance.
Fortunately, a friend of a friend is a scientist researching the potential for immunotherapy – using the body's own natural defenses to fight disease, cancer or viruses – to treat or even cure HIV. So I asked her for a response. Here's what she said:
Picture a map of New York City where darker shades of red indicate poverty. The richest neighborhoods – Upper East Side, Cobble Hill, Tribeca, Forest Hills – would be faint pink. The poorest neighborhoods – Mott Haven, East New York, Brownsville – would be bright scarlet. Middle income neighborhoods – much of Western Queens, much of Staten Island, Kensington, Ocean Parkway – would be varying shades of red.
Now picture a map of HIV/AIDS prevalence in New York City where darker shades of red indicate a higher rate of HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS map would look exactly the same as the poverty map, aside from Chelsea, a wealthy neighborhood with a high concentration of older gay men who survived the initial HIV/AIDS outbreak.
You could lay the HIV/AIDS map right on top of the poverty map and they'd be nearly identical.
It's a simple mental infographic for understanding just how closely HIV/AIDS correlates with poverty.
It helps to think of HIV/AIDS not as an STD or intravenous drug-using disease but as a disease of poverty prevented by access to financial opportunities and health care.
Now consider HIV/AIDS rates across the country. In The New York Times Magazine last week, Linda Villarosa described the startling rates of HIV/AIDS among gay and trans people of color in the South, a rate that exceeds even the African nations most ravaged by HIV/AIDS.
I envision my acquaintance's description of the poverty map stretched across the United States. The bright red areas where HIV/AIDS rates surge are concentrated around the South, places like Jackson, MI, Columbia, SC, El Paso, TX and Baton Rouge, LA.
Now lay a map of the poorest regions of the country on top of that HIV/AIDS map. The scarlet splotches that represent increasing rates of HIV/AIDS correspond with the the bright red poverty splotches that mottle the South, the region with the poorest states and cities in the country. With 22 percent of its population living below the poverty line, Mississippi has the highest rate of poverty in the nation.
Let's take the mental map infographic one step further.
Picture a map of healthcare access in the United States. States that have near-universal healthcare coverage like Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island are pale pink. States with the highest percentages of uninsured citizens – Texas at nearly 17%, Georgia at 14% Mississippi at 13% – are bright red. These are the states that did not elect to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Again that map mimics the patches of red on the HIV/AIDS map.
Poverty, homelessness, lack of access to healthcare and HIV/AIDS are interconnected. Addressing the underlying causes of poverty can also serve as preventive Rx for HIV/AIDS, which will protect us all from illness and save on money on healthcare expanses. And, of course, it's the humane thing to do.
The City, State and Federal Government, in descending order, do a very poor job of helping those who experience homelessness get a home. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers contend with an insane rent burden (>50% of income on rent) and there's little relief in sight. The State has not fulfilled its commitment to affordable housing – a commitment announced to much fanfare by Gov. Cuomo in January 2016 – while the City has faced huge opposition from neighborhoods wary of any rezoning plan, even if creates affordable housing.
Yesterday, Dr. Kim Hopper – Columbia professor, cofounder of the National Coalition for the Homeless and an eminent activist-scholar on homelessness and homeless policy – wrote a CityViews editorial in which he summarized the seemingly intractable systemic roots of homelessness and expressed some cautious optimism about the efforts of the DeBlasio administration and some State lawmakers at homelessness PREVENTION:
Advocates argue that shelter should be a buffer, a last dignity-shielding redoubt, not a degrading penalty for failure to plan or cope. In a weak welfare state, it will probably never be that. But we can commit to making it a decent way-station, not a grim terminus. Better still would be targeting resources where they can do the most good—in prevention.
Unfortunately, because of out-of-control rent and little commitment to affordable housing development, shelters will remain an important part of dealing with the homelessness crisis, Hopper continued.
So there’s no evading this awkward truth: Whether as prevention, deterrence or respite, the shelter system will continue to anchor and belay the housing struggles of low-income New Yorkers. What was once a rude salvage operation targeting the disreputable poor is now an integral part of how those disfavored by fortune get by.
In such an environment, it’s folly to subscribe to “disparate missions” for housing and homelessness divisions within city government. It’s cynical for the state to play coy. Intensified preventive efforts and set-asides in existing housing will surely help; so would more rational institutional placement. But without a serious reckoning with what it will take to integrate affordable housing and shelter policy in the long run—and a significantly greater commitment from the city and state to creating housing affordable for those earning 30 percent of area median income or less—the specter of enduring mass homelessness will continue to haunt New York.
But if we can’t “build our way out of” this crisis, there is promising news on a parallel front. The “Housing Stability Support” policy being developed by State Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi draws upon the demonstrable success of a host of targeted (if often time-limited) rental subsidy programs, programs that have operated at varying degrees of visibility. Left to its own devices, of course, the private market is an inconstant partner. But the focus on enhanced demand (rental subsidies to be used in existing housing), in addition to expanded supply (developing affordable units as contingent “set asides”), is a welcome one. The devil, as always, will reside in the details.
In June, my supervisor and I will discuss our work integrating fitness and health counseling services at supportive housing and affordable housing sites at the NHCHC Conference and Policy Symposium in Washington, D.C. We have titled our presentation Move Toward Wellness: Integrating access to exercise in programs serving individuals impacted by homelessness.
People who have experienced homelessness die, on average, 15-20 years earlier than the general population. Individuals with severe mental illness–a significant proportion of the homeless population– die, on average, 25 years earlier than the general population. In order to most effectively implement preventive health programs for low-income individuals and people who have experienced or currently experience homelessness, we need to bring the programs to them - the places they live and frequent.
In social work, we often say we need to "meet people where they're at." Usually, it's metaphorical. For example, if a woman uses heroin, we need to consider the physical, mental and social factors that influence her getting high and support her without expecting her to immediately cease abusing drugs. We also can't expect individuals from diverse backgrounds and complex experiences to conform to our standards of behavior and ways of thinking.
But in the case of preventive health strategies, like fitness programs and health counseling, we need to literally meet people where they're at by doing the work in their buildings' community rooms, lobbies, patios or dining rooms.
The presentation will share experiences and ideas for implementing such programs at sites with significant resources (like NYC's HIV/Aids Services Administration-funded supportive housing sites, which tend to receive more funding than most other supportive housing facilities) as well as the typical mixed-use supportive/affordable housing site that tends to operate with sparse funding and few frills.
Come check us out if you plan to attend the conference in late-June.