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, Seattle & King county join forces for new academic health department
The University of Washington Schools of Public Health and of Nursing have formalized an alliance with Public Health – Seattle & King County that seeks to encourage collaboration and resource sharing through a new academic health department. The three-year partnership will provide a foundation for increased training and other opportunities for students, faculty, researchers and staff of the participating organizations.
“Academic public health departments make for great collaboration. Our faculty and students can engage in meaningful service while being exposed to state-of-the-art public health work,” says Joel Kaufman, Interim Dean of the UW School of Public Health. “It’s another great example of how our School is involved in the community and not huddled in the ivory tower.”
Save The Date: The Doorway Project’s second pop-up cafe will be open on Sunday February 25, from 2:00pm-4:00pm at the University Heights Center, 5031 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105. Everyone is welcome to attend this free, family-friendly event to listen to live music, enjoy warm beverages and food. No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Learn about some of the efforts to end youth homelessness in the U district! Find out more at the Doorway Project
Skid Road: The intersection of health and homelessness
After years of caring for the homeless in the streets and dilapidated motels of Richmond, Virginia, nurse Josephine Ensign became homeless herself.
Many of her patients were prostitutes—some as young as 15—and her conscience no longer allowed her to adhere to her clinic’s policies. Though she was Christian, she was fired for referring many of these women for abortions, for not making AIDS patients “account for their sins” before they died, and “no longer being a Christian woman with a humble and teachable spirit.”
Urban@UW compiles Faculty Highlights Report for research, teaching and engagement on homelessness
As part of its recently launched Homelessess Research Initiative, Urban@UW has collaborated with faculty and staff across all three UW campuses to compile a broad-ranging selection of powerful and robust projects addressing homelessness from a research lens. Check out the Faculty Highlights Report to learn more about these efforts and the people behind them.
The Faculty Highlights Report was developed by Urban@UW’s Homelessness Research Initiative.
Honoring Women Collaborators at Urban@UW
In honor of International Women’s Day, we are highlighting just some of UW’s brilliant female professors, scholars, and and change-makers with whom Urban@UW is proud to collaborate. Click on their names to explore their work.
Thaisa Way, Executive Director, Urban@UW; Department of Landscape Architecture
UW students get a lesson in homelessness with Tent City 3
“Anybody need socks? Medical? Band-aids? Hand sanitizer?”
Lois Thetford, a University of Washington faculty member, called out in a low voice as she and three UW students made their way through closely spaced, tarp-covered tents that make up Tent City 3 — the long-running tent encampment that recently moved to the UW campus.
The temperature hovered near freezing, with a brisk wind blowing from the west. Most of the campers huddled in their tents, pitched in the UW parking lot that will be their home for the next three months. The camp was almost completely silent — it was impossible to know which tents were inhabited and which were empty.
Yet as Thetford and her students passed, a hand poked out of an opening in one tent, and a woman’s voice from inside said: “Socks are always good. Thank you.”
The next stop was the food tent, where Chris Pitre, a student studying to be a physician assistant, chatted with Jeff Bainter, a restaurant cook and Tent City camper. Did he have any medical issues?
“I have this horrible cough, a persistent, horrible cough,” Bainter said. Pitre reached for his stethoscope.
The UW began hosting the homeless camp in early January, and it’s believed to be the first time that a major public university has ever hosted a tent city on its campus.
Access To Nature In Urban Areas Is Key To Healthier Living
Mental illnesses and mood disorders are more prevalent in urban areas partly due to reduced access to nature, according to a new study.
Researchers probed the rising tension between the critical role of urban areas and these cities’ debilitating aspects that disconnect people from nature – and even raise mental illnesses.
“There’s an enormous amount of disease largely tied to our removal from the natural environment,” warned study author Peter Kahn of University of Washington, citing that children in megacities grow up without seeing stars and achieving feelings of “awe, restoration and imaginative spark” from it.
In their perspective study, Kahn and Terry Hartig from Uppsala University in Sweden pointed to signs that cities can cause emotional and mental strain on their residents.
The little or no contact with nature is creating so-called “environmental generational amnesia,” coined by Kahn to describe how new generations are concocting new ideas of what is “environmentally normal” based on their childhood experiences.