February 5, 2016
We just spent the past two weeks exploring San Francisco examining three main areas of study: Public Health, Globalization, and Anthropology. Over the course of the semester we are going to analyze the complexity of issues surrounding health in a global context and interrogate the systems of power that embed these issues and have already made great progress. As a student learning community, in solidarity with those whom we have met along the way, we are beginning to investigate feasible and practical solutions to stark global health inequities. In a nutshell, we are studying how we can address global disparities in a cross-cultural context. While it is foolish to think that we will come up with all the answers, hopefully we will learn to ask better questions that push the boundaries of what we can imagine and envision as real solutions.
On one of our site visits, we went to the Coalition on Homelessness, which was just a five minute walk from our hostel, located in the Tenderloin, one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco. The Director of the Coalition, Jennifer Friedenbach, spoke about the history of homelessness in the area. She emphasized the systemic forces, such as neoliberal policies championed by the Reagan administration during the 1980s such as Trickle Down Economics that enabled the epidemic of homelessness to arise in the Tenderloin. Historically, the Tenderloin consisted of residential hotels for passing through sailors, but has, with the transition from industrial jobs to service jobs, transformed into a tourist area that now houses mostly the elderly and disabled. The Coalition works directly with homeless individuals from the bottom up in order to keep their voices heard and enact reforms that actually improve homeless people’s lived experience.
There are more than 7,000 homeless (including youth) in San Francisco that mostly consists of the LGBTQ and African American communities. The population of San Francisco is only 3% African American, but 50% of homeless families are African American. It is easy to use the myth of rugged individualism to blame homeless individuals for their situations and construct laws that make it nearly impossible for these individuals to access the resources they need to break the cycle of poverty, but in order to address homelessness in a profound way, Jennifer stressed the genuine interest of politicians to tackle the issue. For example, Mayor Lee spent more than $5.3 million on the set up for Super Bowl events this weekend and announced the homeless must evacuate the neighborhood. In response to this, there is a protest that aims to bring attention about how the government continues to overlook this population in desperate need and to highlight how the mayor could have used to money to immediately house 500 homeless people.
After Jennifer’s lecture, we spent time folding publications of Street Sheet (a street newspaper that focuses on issues of poverty and housing in San Francisco), which the Coalition needed to mail out to their donors. One way that this program is different than a traditional academic program is that we get to learn from people who are not just professors, and we get to participate as active members of the community. Simply taking 20 minutes of our time to fold newspapers for the Coalition is an act of reciprocity and gesture of solidarity that represents the ideals of the learning community that we strive to embody throughout the semester.
While the days are packed and exhausting, they are rewarding! It is enlightening to being our journey around the world in a place that is at least somewhat familiar to us all and see it from a new perspective. We can’t wait to travel to Vietnam and continue building our learning community throughout the semester!
IHP Health & Community Spring Track 2