April 20, 2022

Good morning MindSite News readers. Today, we learn about a teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota who once dropped out of high school himself – and now has a deep empathy for kids who went through the same struggles he did. We also bring you a distressing story about the soaring number of unhoused people who have died on the streets of our cities during the pandemic, especially in California. And, on the more hopeful side, we look at a program in North Carolina that is helping homeless people get into housing.

What trauma-informed teaching looks like in the St. Paul classroom of Matthew Sanchez

In some ways, it’s remarkable that Matthew Sanchez is a teacher at all. He grew up at a time of rising drug violence in St. Paul, Minnesota, saw close friends become victims of violence, and dropped out of high school in 11th grade. He felt disconnected from school and his teachers. Then he entered a program that helped struggling young people earn their high school diplomas and encountered a teacher who connected with him in a way he’d always needed. He saw the powerful impact a caring adult could have in the lives of young people. Eventually, he decided he would pursue that same path. Becoming a teacher “was a way I could give back to the community,” Sanchez told MinnPost

He worked for a while at a high school, trying to help kids who had fallen behind. But he felt he could have more impact working with kids at a younger age and moved to a K-8 school, Hazel Park Preparatory Academy, where he starts each day checking in with his students on how they’re doing and what they need.  The school offers training to help teachers build connections with students—and kids with other kids. “Our district wanted us to make sure we are addressing that social-emotional need for kids,” he said. “Those who might not be too social get pointers on how to engage with their peers.”

Sanchez also went back to school himself and is about to earn a master’s degree in education at Metro State University in St. Paul. The title of his thesis says a lot about his focus: “The Great Unknown: How do teachers recognize and respond to students who’ve experienced trauma?” Department chair Yvonne RB-Banks says Sanchez’s work is practical, timely, and hopeful. “I believe that his research was amplified by his own lived experiences,” RB-Banks said. His work on trauma fits in well with Metro State as an “anti-racist” university, she said. “We push through by supporting each other, by having our classrooms open, and having teachers that are ready and supporting students on the journey.”

Rising deaths among the unhoused, especially men in their 50s and 60s

“It’s like a wartime death toll in places where there is no war.” That’s how Maria Raven, a San Francisco-based physician, described the rising tally of deaths among unhoused Californians, in a disturbing story in the New York Times. The numbers are shocking. Last year, in Los Angeles County alone, nearly 2,000 unsheltered people died – more than five a day. According to The Times, experts believe at least 4,800 homeless people died in California last year. Many of the deaths were from drug overdoses driven by the proliferation of fentanyl, but a large number of people – especially men in their 50s and 60s – died of treatable conditions such as chronic heart disease, as medical care became harder to access due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A more compassionate society would seek answers to a provocative question, said Stanford psychologist Keith Humphreys: “Can we help men from dying so much?”

North Carolina’s Lotus Campaign helps unhoused people connect with landlords – and pay the rent 

The Lotus Campaign is helping people emerge from homelessness. The Charlotte, North Carolina, nonprofit specializes in connecting people who have secured social and financial support with landlords who will approve their rental applications – despite background challenges like evictions, criminal records, or mental health needs. It’s a big deal, especially now, when landlords are more selective and can demand higher rents.

“Homelessness and housing affordability really are barometers of social justice in our communities,” Executive Director Beth Silverman told The Charlotte Observer. “Unfortunately, they are issues people don’t want to engage with and don’t want to look directly in the face.” Since 2018, Lotus Campaign has worked to match landlords and other nonprofits with people who are unhoused. They then offer landlords specific guarantees, including sign-on funds in lieu of security deposits, and promises that Lotus-affiliated tenants are connected to the social services they need to stay well and continue to pay their rent. 

Landlords, tenants, and nonprofit partners are satisfied with the level of success. In the four years since Lotus launched, more than 350 people have secured housing and 70% of them continue to maintain it. Now the organization is growing; Silverman has entered an agreement with the city of Pensacola, Florida, to begin a pilot of the program later this year.

In other news…

It’s time for youth aged 8 to 18 to be screened regularly for anxiety at their annual pediatric checkup, the United States Preventative Task Force says. The new recommendation expands a previous advisory recommending that 12-to-18-year-olds be screened annually for depression. Psychiatrists have observed that most mental illnesses present first in childhood and adolescence, but Dr. Jennifer Havens, the chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, says that anxiety disorder can go undetected for a long time. “It can be quiet,” Havens said, speaking to NPR. “Kids who are anxious are often very self-conscious and aren’t going to share this with their families or their physicians, necessarily. So screening is a very, very good idea.”

Fiction writer Erin Stewart’s recently released YA novel The Words We Keep tells the story of Lily Larkin, a 16-year-old dealing with anxiety-driven perfectionism who’s working hard to keep it together while her sister recovers from her own mental health crisis. Stewart was inspired by her personal experiences with anxiety, she told KSL.com. “I wanted to write a book where kids who are struggling like I was with anxiety can see that: one, they’re not alone, that there’s lots of people that have these thoughts every day and are living healthy, wonderful lives with them; and two, that the best thing they can do is to speak up and to get the help that they deserve.”

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And if you’re a veteran, press 1.

Crying on the Subway: A Journalist Explores Her Trauma History

Stephanie Foo’s What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma.

Talented journalist Stephanie Foo thought she had conquered her demons from an abusive childhood. So why was she so bereft?

Behind the Protests Against School Mental Health Programs

A close look at protests over mental health programs in schools suggest that the powerful forces driving them are anything but grassroots.

Revolution From the Inside Out  

A new generation of activists from the Young Women’s Freedom Center is working to transform the system and change themselves.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...