Tell us about your scholarship and how it relates to urban issues, particularly homelessness.
My terminal degree—they always say terminal cause it kills you—is in public health. My scholarly work is considered public scholarship and my doctorate is in international health, and it’s a practice doctorate because I’m also a nurse practitioner. I always do research that’s outwards focused, in health services, health policy. I’m also really passionate about inter-professional education especially for our health sciences students. I work in a couple of the shelters here in the U-district: Roots young adults shelter, and the Elizabeth Gregory home which is specific to homeless cis and trans women, and functions as a safe house for those dealing with intimate partner violence and trauma. We organize inter-professional groups of medical, nursing, and dental students that do basic foot and dental care and education for them.
In terms of public scholarship, I’m currently wrapping up one project that’s on trauma-informed care called “Soul Stories: Voices from the Margins”, which will be published by the University of California Medical Humanities Press this year. The next one in-line is called Skid road: the intersection of Health and Homelessness,it is an in-depth narrative history of homelessness in King County, looking at how a fairly progressive city/county has historically dealt with the most vulnerable populations, and to figure out how we got to where we are now.
The project that is just starting as part of Urban@UW is the Doorway community café project. We had a faculty retreat in November 2016, and I was a part of brainstorming and planning projects that we could do as a university, looking at our resources, interests, and what we could do that has a higher impact on homelessness, nationally as well as right here on our doorstep. One of the ideas was a place-based studio/ community café. I am working with Lisa Kelly who is a professor in the UW School of Lawwho assists homeless adolescents and young adults with legal issues, and Charlotte Sanders with the School of Social Work. When I was doing study abroad work in Auckland, New Zealand with Jim Dires, we were with our students working with some agencies and NGO’s building partnerships to address homelessness in a more comprehensive, upstream way than just having soup kitchens. They opened a community café called the Merge café, where baristas and all the food prep people are working their way out of homelessness. The whole point was that they have community tables, there aren’t any single tables. There are unobtrusive social workers and outreach workers that help if people are struggling with housing insecurity or food insecurity. There are homelessness services without being known as “the homelessness café”. And we want to see if that model will work specifically for homeless young adults and adolescents in the U District.
How long have you been working on the challenge of homelessness?
I’ve worked as a nurse practitioner and health services researcher around homelessness since 1984. When I was a young adult I had the lived experience of homelessness for about 6 months. It’s a very individual type of experience that directly impacted my practice and my research. My 1st book is a health policy narrative called “Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling through the Safety Net” came out in August 2016 and it was the UW Health Sciences common book for AY 2016-17. Homelessness and trauma also affected my teaching; I would always include some of that perspective. But, I wasn’t as “out,” with it because it was—and still is—very stigmatizing and people automatically go to the individual choices that you made. So, that’s changed how I teach and also how I interact with students—in a good way.
What role do community partnerships play in your work?
Public health is by definition inter-professional, so I automatically value partnerships as they allow us to avoid the problem of tunnel vision. For something that’s a wicked problem like homelessness, you have to have inter-professional views, and I love it because it keeps me on my toes. We have many partnerships with homeless youth-serving agencies that operate with businesses, and with policymakers.
How will you use data in addressing homelessness through the Doorway Project?
My philosophy about research follows a pragmatic framework of exploring the best methods, questions, and approaches to figuring out possible solutions to societal problems. My research has always been mixed method so I do a lot that’s qualitative as well as quantitative. For my dissertation I used objective medical charts and physical exam findings as well as qualitative methods like participatory community mapping. I personally think it’s a really important way to go for wicked problems like homelessness—wicked being very multifaceted and so there is no one easy solution. For Doorway we are planning on having broad-based objective data as well as qualitative data.
What approaches do you believe are most effective for addressing homelessness in Seattle?
A community café! Since the “white persons founding of Seattle” we’ve had one of the highest amounts of homelessness per capita, from a continual boom-bust economy going all the way back to when the area attracted a lot of single men mostly for shipping and logging. Looking historically at policy solutions, I’m pragmatic and at the same time very empathetic to people who are experiencing homelessness. I have had the lived experience and I’ve worked with many people who are experiencing that, and at the same time I am a citizen and a homeowner and I have children, and I believe there are certain civil standards we need to have as a society. Coming from a nursing and public health perspective, huge homeless encampments are problematic, and they are symptomatic of something that is significantly wrong with how we are handling housing and social support. If somebody is substance abusing, has severe depression or other mental health issues and you get them a stable place to live, even if you don’t get them counseling and medications, a lot of the time they get better. We need a lot more supportive, longer-term housing, especially for young adults. I’m a mom of two young adults and they had lots of stability and resources, and a lot of the young people right out by the window here have not had those resources, they’ve gone through foster care, detention in the past, fractured lives, and trauma.
What do you see for the future of research and policy-making in your field, and in homelessness as an urban challenge?
More consumer involvement. I work with the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, and they focus on grassroots community involvement. Everything that they do includes consumers to vet certain changes. So, I think of having that as more of a model. Also, respecting people’s time: I’m paid to go to meetings because I’m a faculty member but someone who is struggling to make ends meet, a meeting is taking time away from what they could do otherwise to make money. So, paying them for their time and valuing their input—I think we could do that even more.
If you could give aspiring urban scholars a piece of advice, what would it be?
Get out there—and wear comfortable shoes! It’s one thing to sit in some little office pod or library being very removed. If you’re talking urban scholarship, community involvement is very important, in whatever way you are able to, get out there and take time to be a part of the community that you’re studying or living in.
Written by Shahd Al Baz, Urban@UW Communications Assistant
UW researchers analyze effects of minimum wage on seattle food prices
Many states and localities throughout the U.S. have adopted higher minimum wages, and higher labor costs among low-wage food system workers could result in higher food prices. However, this study finds no evidence of change in supermarket food prices by market basket or increase in prices by food group in response to the implementation of Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance. This paper is part of a broader Minimum Wage Study at the University of Washington.
Andrew Dannenberg, an Affiliate Professor at the School of Public Health and the College of Built Environments, writes about the importance of architects recognizing human health: while architects have long recognized the importance of human health —including physical, mental, and social well-being — as part of their mission, implementation sometimes reflects a spirit of compliance more than of aspiration. Design that is limited to preventing harm by meeting building codes and standards forfeits the full range of design possibilities that could enhance the health and quality of life of a building’s occupants and visitors. There are many major societal trends for which architects can contribute health-promoting improvements: obesity, housing and social inequities, an aging population, hazardous chemical exposures, urbanization, nature contact deficit, energy poverty, water shortages and excesses, natural disasters, and climate change.
UW School of Public Health works with city to combat hunger, reduce discards
Forty percent of food in the United States—much of it healthy and edible—goes uneaten. It ends up in landfills and produces methane emissions that are 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, more than 48 million Americans aren’t getting the food they need, while food banks are struggling to meet demand.
To reverse that trend, the City of Seattle enlisted the UW School of Public Health to analyze current food waste prevention and recovery efforts and help develop local strategies.
The new report (PDF) from the School’s Center for Public Health Nutrition suggests that public agencies are in a position to foster an integrated local and regional approach. Such an effort could provide support for grocery stores and restaurants wanting to reduce their food waste. as well as for organizations striving to make healthier food available to people who need it most.
“The report brings the city a step closer to realizing their goals by helping them understand the challenges and opportunities of food-generating businesses and anti-hunger agencies in creating a more effective food waste prevention and recovery system,” said Jennifer Otten, lead author of the report, “It helps them envision the steps they could take to achieve the triple bottom line of improving environmental health, food security and public health.” Otten is an assistant professor of health services and a core faculty member of the UW Nutritional Sciences Program.
The UW research team conducted 26 in-depth interviews of key stakeholders within the region, and public agencies across the country, to understand the best ways the city can support food waste prevention and recovery goals. Researchers talked to eight anti-hunger agencies, five public agencies, one non-governmental organization, and 12 food businesses.
The researchers came up with 11 key recommendations for the City of Seattle… Among them:
Develop a food waste and recovery roundtable to foster a comprehensive approach across all sectors
Develop and implement standard food waste metrics
Make the case for reducing food waste from the consumer level to the food service industry
Increase infrastructure and capacity of the emergency food system
The report also identified the challenges faced by anti-hunger agencies, public agencies and food businesses.
For anti-hunger agencies, the most cited challenge was inadequate storage space, particularly for perishables that are often the most nutritious items.
Another challenge included difficulty in coordinating efficient pick-up or delivery of donations.
Challenges for public agencies ranged from a lack of coordination internally among individuals working on the food waste system to high employee turnover in the commercial sector. This affects the training and technical assistance they can provide.
Food businesses, such as grocery stores and restaurants, need to deal with customer expectations of quality of food, misconceptions about sell-by and use-by dates, and the unpredictability of consumer purchases. To reduce food waste, businesses have explored various strategies, such as waste audits and small-batch cooking. They have also kept tight tabs on inventory and order as little stock as possible.
Results from this project can help public agencies to better support food waste prevention and recovery efforts in the future, according to the report.
The report also highlights the lack of common metrics for determining how much food is thrown away and how much it is worth. Numbers would not only help incentivize change, but also demonstrate impact, the report notes. However, few food businesses in the study tracked their food donations and each anti-hunger agency used different metrics to do so.
“We really need a national language and some national metrics to understand the problem better and the effectiveness of solutions,” Otten said. This month a partnership of leading international organizations, including the United Nations, unveiled a global standard to measure food waste. It provides a set of definitions and reporting requirements for companies, countries and others.
“Food waste is a major environmental, economic and ethical problem,” Otten said. “We cannot afford to continue squandering our natural resources, in ways that severely impact the climate, by throwing away perfectly edible food.”
SPH Faculty Tap into New UW Effort to Create More Livable Cities
A new University of Washington initiative is thinking “upstream” when it comes to creating safer, healthier and more livable cities.
Urban@UW aims to bring together UW faculty, staff and students from different disciplines with city decision-makers and citizens to wrestle with urban issues such as housing and poverty, growth and transportation, and food and economic disparity. The program is funded by the UW Office of Research.
Organizers held a recent kick-off event to brainstorm possible pilot research projects that would be funded by Urban@UW. Faculty members from the Schools of Public Health and Social Work were among the more than 150 people who took part.