When I graduated with my Master’s of Social Work (MSW) in 2013, I felt ready to tackle the world. I knew all about social justice. I had learned all the theories. I had learned about trauma. About the importance of community. The impact of racism and oppression. The endless cycle of poverty. White privilege. Cultural humility. I soaked it all in, and I couldn’t wait to start applying this knowledge in the field of social work. Cut to three weeks later, walking into my first day of work at a homeless shelter - and the undeniable truth that I had no idea what I was doing.
When I began working with people experiencing homelessness more than two decades ago, I viewed homelessness as an isolated social issue. I, like many, thought that the causes of homelessness had to do with unemployment, mental illness, addiction, and domestic violence. What I quickly learned—in large part from the people I worked with in shelters and on the streets—was that individual vulnerabilities were not root causes. These were individual risk factors that helped determine who might slip through the cracks into homelessness. The root causes had more to do with the lack of decent affordable housing and our frayed (or non-existent) health and human services safety net. I came to understand that ending homelessness for an individual or family requires permanent housing coupled with services and supports to maintain stability.
“Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.” – David Gaider
“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” – Author Unknown
Clyde Lloyd shared with me an encounter he had while attending a conference in a hotel. Heading down to the conference check-in area, he was alone in an elevator as it stopped to pick up another passenger. A woman looking at her cellphone entered. Upon glancing up, she stopped abruptly, then quickly exited the elevator murmuring, “Go ahead. I’ll wait for the next one.”
"Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot." —Sun Tzu, The Art of War
"We are all just trying to be holy." —Richard Siken, Snow and Dirty Rain
If we’re going to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I want to talk about the tactician. I want to talk about the general who methodically moved the war banner of racial equity across the country—who died in the fight.
Martin has been living on the streets for a number of years. As the case manager responsible for helping him obtain housing, I had concerns about his ability to manage in an apartment of his own and knew that he would need support. However, Martin wanted his own apartment, and ultimately, it was his decision, not mine.
New Year’s is here, and with it come your New Year’s resolutions. Like a whisper in your ear from a better version of yourself, New Year’s resolutions are more often carried out for awhile and then ignored as time passes. But, that is not a reason to avoid them entirely. Much like the concept of avoiding your primary care provider to ensure that you never hear what’s actually ailing you - never setting new goals means you’re destined never to fail, right? That’s wrong. I don’t mean to be patronizing, but some failure is inevitable, so don’t undermine your drive to become a better person just because you’re afraid to fail. Let’s call it long-term self-care.
For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice on December 21 marks the longest night of the year. It has been marked by a rich history of gathering and revelry. Communities traditionally came together to keep a spark of hope alive for a new and brighter tomorrow--literally and metaphorically.
Today, in cities across the country, the Winter Solstice marks a different sort of gathering--one of remembrance, respect, solidarity, and responsibility. We remember those individuals, children, mothers, daughters, sons, and fathers we lost to homelessness and poverty--those we failed to help.
I am affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short. Ironic as it may seem, SAD tends to make me sad. It affects my mood, my motivation, and my ability to focus.
What is the cause of this yearly disturbance? It’s related to the change in seasons. As autumn progresses, the sun shines more directly over the Southern Hemisphere, until it reaches December 25, when it begins to make its way slowly back toward the equator and the Northern Hemisphere. This scientific phenomenon is the reason why the sun does not rise quite as high in the fall and winter as it does throughout the rest of the year. Lasting darkness causes my seasonal depression and lethargy.
When I was a kid, my parents would trick me into an earlier bedtime by reminding me that when it was dark outside, I should be asleep. Now at 26 years old, I just feel depressed during the darkest months of the year. It’s hard to wake up because it’s still dark outside. My office doesn’t get much natural light, so I’m sleepy all day. And, the sun begins to set before or during my commute home. Thus, I’m sluggish, mildly depressed, and my diet shifts radically toward fatty, salty, comfort foods.
The number of parents in recovery from mental illness, trauma, homelessness, and substance use is unclear because there is no standardized national data collection.This lack of data leads to a huge gap in service delivery to a sector of the population who is raising children.
This can be remedied by screening and assessing parents across our health care system to identify needs for specific education and support services--particularly in areas of mental illness, trauma, homelessness, and substance use. This would give families a good chance to receive critical support services to keep them intact and healthy. Children could escape the isolation and helplessness that comes with living with a parent who is ill, but without treatment. Interventions could occur before children are neglected or abused.
World AIDS Day--recognized every year on December 1 since 1988--is an occasion to reflect on the global impact of HIV and AIDS and health care inequities across world populations. On this day, HIV/AIDS organizations around the world affirm their commitment to eliminate stigma and expand testing and treatment to people living where rates of HIV and AIDS remain high.
The U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator--Ambassador Deborah Birx, M.D.--asserts, “We will only end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 if no one is left behind. It is unacceptable that key populations still face stigma, discrimination, and violence, which impede their ability to access quality HIV services.”
This year, the U.S. is working to control an epidemic in Scott County, Indiana that has a higher incidence of HIV than any country in sub-Saharan Africa. Austin--the county seat with a population of 4,200--has more cases of HIV than all of New York City. In this small, rural county, the forces of poverty, addiction, and politics drove an injection drug problem to cause the first-known HIV outbreak related to the current opioid crisis in America.