Wednesday, October 25, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News Readers! In today’s Daily, we focus on homelessness. Residents of East Atlanta are helping fund a social worker to reduce homelessness in their community. Fresno grapples with an expanding homeless population amid extreme temperatures. And San Francisco says tiny homes are key to transitioning the unhoused into permanent homes. Plus, the Fonz – Henry Winkler – gets candid about social anxiety and his road to emotional intimacy in a new memoir.

Atlanta Village hires a social worker to help unhoused residents get housed

Not many neighborhoods can boast their own social worker, but East Atlanta Village can. Its neighborhood association partnered with the City of Atlanta and Atlanta City Council to fund the salary of a case manager to tackle homelessness in the city’s core neighborhoods, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports. Michael Nolan holds that role ands spends most of his 40-hour work week on the ground, forging relationships with unhoused people. The project began as a one-year pilot, but if the partners see it working, it could become a model for providing services across all of Atlanta, wrote Katie Farmer, Intown Cares Director of Development, in an email to MindSite News.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” Chase Miller, president of the East Atlanta Community Association, told the AJC. “Part of our purpose is to build a thriving community where neighbors help each other and we support our neighbors during the good times and the bad,” he said. “These are our neighbors.”

Nolan is especially qualified for the direct service he provides to East Atlanta’s unhoused. He’s a trauma specialist and addiction counselor who knows the journey to long-term recovery intimately, and is now walking it himself. He isn’t phased by the work’s unpredictability, understanding that unhoused folks are wary. “People on the street are very resistant to trust anyone because they’re lied to all the time,” Nolan said. “They’re ignored all the time. They’re told ‘no’ constantly. So it takes time to let them get to know me, so they trust me enough that I get to know them.” 

California’s unhoused are getting the worst of climate change

Central California’s unhoused might be living in an episode of The Twilight Zone, where the earth veered close to the sun, causing deadly heat. When the mercury hit 108° this summer, Fresno resident Deana Everhart, 61, told KQED it was hot enough to cook TV dinners on the sidewalk “as if they were in a microwave. In about 30 minutes, they’re hot and ready.” It’s about the only thing she can appreciate about the swiftly changing weather patterns brought on by climate change. Having cycled in and out of permanent housing for the better part of 20 years, she’s experiencing record-breaking sweltering summers and preparing herself for another harsh, wet winter. Keeping her 39-year-old son, Travis, safe is also top of mind. He has schizophrenia and lives on the streets, too. “It’s just hard,” Everhart said. “At my age, everything combined is hard on me.”

“Folks experiencing homelessness are on the bleeding edge of the health crises that are happening with extremes of temperature,” wrote Margot Kushel, the lead investigator on the California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness published in June. She said older adults like Everhart are most vulnerable to climate change and likened the physical condition of a 50-year-old living on the streets to a 70- or 80-year-old living in a home. 

Fresno has expanded the number of cooling and warming centers it offers to protect unhoused people during extreme weather events, but some residents are up in arms and say the centers threaten after-school programs and services for the elderly. “It was a complete disaster for our neighborhood,” said Chris Collins, who lives next door to one of four wintertime warming centers.

But the services are needed, said City Councilman Miguel Arias, who represents the district where most of Fresno’s unhoused live. “This is one of the many unintended consequences of climate change at the local level,” he said. “And residents will continue to push back on local government as we try to adjust and expand services to save lives.”

California turns to tiny homes to address homeless crisis

Tiny homes are often smaller than 400 square feet – or slightly bigger than a large American-style living room. They contain the bare necessities: shelter from the weather, privacy, a toilet, and shower. City-supported tiny home communities also boast laundry and kitchen facilities, gathering spaces for community events, and on-site case management to help guide residents toward permanent housing. San Jose city officials told SFGate they’ve reduced homelessness by 10%. The ultimate goal is to move residents to permanent housing, which Mayor Matt Mahan says has happened for almost half of the 1,500 people San Jose has sheltered so far in tiny homes. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom supports tiny homes, and has committed to building 1,200 more across the state. Homeless advocates see their benefit too, but warn of an overdependence on the small structures. “People are still homeless when they live there,” said Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: HOME, a nonprofit working to reduce homelessness in Santa Clara County. “You may be getting some more homeless folks into temporary shelter, but what about the hordes of people dying for an affordable place to live?”

In July, Mahan diverted $8 million of the city’s $137 million fund for homelessness and housing into building more tiny homes. He says it’s a one-time shift to rapidly address the current homelessness crisis. Affordable housing, on the other hand, takes years to build and costs more than $1 million dollars per unit. 

In other news…

Hear directly from Deana Everhart as she talks to KQED about the ways she fights to keep herself and her son, Travis, alive amidst the harsh temperatures in Fresno, California. They’re featured in the episode, Surviving Extreme Heat Without A Home, from the KQED podcast Sold Out: Rethinking Housing in America.

Is ashwagandha good for stress relief and other physical and mental benefits? For a lot of people, yes, experts told Medical News Today in a detailed review of the herb’s pros and cons. It can reduce cortisol levels and ease stress – but  it’s also not the miracle shrub some TikTok influencers say it is, they added. “Ashwagandha may improve testosterone levels, which can affect libido and strength, and it has been proven to assist with stress and anxiety,” said Brittany Craig, a registered nutritionist at the Mount Sinai Hospital Cancer Center. “But the benefits are mild to moderate.” It also has some side effects: Because it can ramp up the immune system, it can exacerbate autoimmune diseases. And its boosting of testosterone levels makes it a bad choice for men with prostate cancer.

For most of his life, Henry Winkler has tried to make people love him because his parents didn’t, he wrote in the memoir, Being Henry: The Fonz…and Beyond, out now. As survivors of the Holocaust, their trauma stood in the way. Ironically, his relationship with his parents’ made him both emotionally needy and emotionally unavailable, he wrote. Not until he began therapy in 2016, was he able to tell his partner, now wife, Stacey, that he loved her. Winkler’s candor, coupled with his undeniable charm, make the book a worthy read, says New York Times reviewer Henry Alford. “As my former boss might have written,” writes Alford, “VTEBNLPBI (very tidy ending, but no less powerful because of it).” 

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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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...