Congratulations, Kevin!

“I am a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying political science, history and music. Also I was an intern at Amherst Community Connections last summer. I have performed with the UMass Chamber choir and have done shows with Opera Workshop at UMass. My teacher at school is Marjorie Melnick and I have been taking lessons with her throughout my four years at UMass. I have put on a recital that has songs that I have done throughout my four years at UMass. There is some musical theater, German and English art song, and some folk tunes. Music has always been a large part of my life and I could not really live without it. If you are around I would love to see you at my recital which is March 1st at 7:30 in Bezanson Recital Hall. Here is a video of my singing so you can get a sneak peak of the recital.”

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Affordable Housing: The only solution to Homelessness

With the recent tragedy of a homeless couple in Greenfield freezing to death and the growing struggle with shelters’ limited capacities that was highlighted by the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s January 19th article headlined “‘No backup option’: Shelters at their limits during winter,” the problem of homelessness in this community looms larger than ever. As an intern at Amherst Community Connections and as a member of this community that has failed to support and protect some of its most vulnerable members, I feel obligated to share my views on the current crisis, in the hopes of drawing attention to some of its most important yet overlooked aspects. In my opinion, both news on the deaths and shelters’ failures point to a single, straight-forward truth: Emergency shelters on their own can no longer maintain their efficacy as buffers to homelessness. Rather, they must be used in tandem with a more fundamental approach towards solving homelessness, that is affordable housing.  

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The key difference between emergency shelter and affordable housing lies in their respective stages of intervention. In the chain of events leading up to an individual becoming homeless, emergency shelters come in at the very end, as a final measure to provide immediate, short-term relief. Affordable housing, on the other hand, tackles homelessness from its very roots, by preventing an individual from becoming homeless to begin with, or returning an individual who has become homeless back to his or her initial stability. If shelters aim to “manage” homelessness, affordable housing aims to “solve” it—Ultimately, the only solution to homelessness is to provide the homeless with homes, and affordable housing is the most direct means to achieve that end goal. 

Affordable housing also comes with cost benefits. According to the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance, average Medicaid, shelter and incarceration costs are known to drop by approximately $13,000 per tenant each year once the individual is introduced to stable housing and support services.[1] This evidence suggests that affordable housing measures are more cost effective than emergency shelters due to their long-term stabilizing effects. Homeless people, including those at shelters, are more susceptible to mental and physical debilitation, which lead to more frequent medical mishaps and incarcerations. Affordable housing cuts down on these additional expenses through providing the mental and physical stability that homeless people need to rehabilitate themselves. In this way, one of the greatest advantages of affordable housing lies in its conduciveness to rehabilitation. In contrast, shelters are limited via their very construct as temporary spaces intended to provide a night’s sleep, rather than a long-term support system. 

 In light of such efficacy of affordable housing, public policies and programs become ever more significant in making affordable housing accessible. The Gazette article’s mention of the “Housing First” program hints at ongoing local efforts to promote permanent housing. The Housing First Program organized by Amherst Community Connections is one example of such efforts that tackle homelessness at grass-roots level. The program works by providing chronically homeless Amherst residents with housing vouchers that include wrap-around supportive services. 

On the other hand, efforts to solve homelessness on the state level tend to be more diluted across numerous initiatives, including shelters and affordable housing. In a 2016 MASSlive article about homeless shelters in Western Massachusetts, Friends of the Homeless shelter stated its average cost to be around $42 per bed per night, out of which approximately $26 is financed through state funding and the rest through fundraisers and grants.[2] This indicates that the state’s funding for shelters falls far behind the actual needed amount. More importantly, it is notable how the shelter’s cost of supporting an individual amounts to a total of around $1,260/month. The fact that this exceeds the typical monthly rent of a one-bedroom apartment in Amherst illustrates the problem with emergency shelter as a long-term intervention: it would be more cost-effective and beneficial to those concerned with homelessness to invest in affordable housing and other interventions that address the affordable housing gap, rather than emergency shelters.

With the abundance of organizations, policies, and systems that are already in place for tackling homelessness, it is imperative to see how these individual components may work most effectively in relation to one another, and to allocate our resources accordingly. While shelters are an indispensable part of the support system for homeless people, they should be perceived and utilized as intermediary sites with the active aim of connecting their beneficiaries to affordable housing. Only through tackling homelessness from its roots, that is the scarcity and inaccessibility of affordable housing, can we resolve the current strain placed on emergency shelters, as well as achieve long-term advances towards eradicating homelessness. Whether that be through bolstering local, grassroots efforts like those executed at Amherst Community Connections, through increasing federal and state funding for housing, or something different all together, is left to the consideration of all concerned individuals and communities, as well as the state and nation as a whole.

 

Esther Yoojin Song

Research Intern

Amherst Community Connections

 


References

[1]Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance, https://www.mhsa.net/homelessness-massachusetts

[2]Schoenberg, Shira, Mar 14, 2016, “State funding leaves WMass Homeless shelters needing more,” https://www.masslive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/03/state_funding_leaves_wmass_hom.html

 

Government shutdown afflicts homeless population

The government shutdown is beginning to hurt some of the most vulnerable Americans including homeless people and low-income renters that are dependent on subsidies.

With the Department of Housing and Urban Development being one of the federal agencies hardest hit by the shutdown, their usual efforts to increase access to affordable housing via providing subsidies and financial support to nonprofit groups that help low-income renters, have been reduced drastically. The impact of such reductions is residents facing fear of eviction, nonprofit groups tapping into their emergency reserve funds, and more and more people’s lives being put at risk.

If the shutdown continues, all these organizations will be left having to consider a spectrum of bad to terrible options, including staff layoffs and, in the worst-case scenario, evictions,
— Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition

The article by the NY Times linked below explains the current situation in more detail. Give it a read to find out how the government shutdown is affecting individuals, nonprofit organizations, and the nation as a whole.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/us/politics/government-shutdown-housing-services.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

ACC joins Big Y Giving Tag Program!

We are excited to share that ACC is now participating in the Big Y Community Bag and Giving Tag program!

To support us in this initiative, all you have to do is follow these simple steps:

  1. Visit any Big Y store.

  2. Buy a reusable Community Bag.

  3. Follow the instructions on the attached Giving Tag.

  4. Wa-lah! We’ve received a $1 donation!

This is a great way to protect the environment and raise money to help us continue supporting homeless people. Watch the video below to see Linda share the exciting news!

Donations from First Congregational church!

Huge thanks to the First Congregational church of Hadley, MA, for donating this colorful collection of hats and scarves. We will be distributing them to people in need. Donations like these go a long way to keeping those without a home warm during the winter !

The blankets under the hats and scarves are hand-made by our long time benefactor Sharon Carty who has crocheted blankets and donates to ACC since 2013. It takes upward of 20-40 hours a blanket. It is a house-warming gift for anyone who got off the streets and found a place to call home. On average, she donates 30-40 blankets a year and we give away just about that many a year!

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My Dad and I, And His Pottery

Bill and his Dad, and Pottery Making

 

On June 27th  ACC invited Bill Clock to come in and talk about his father and the making of pottery. Before, Bill went into his discussion, Hwei-Ling started an ice breaker where people introduced themselves and shared something funny about their father or a father-like figure in their life. I was intrigued by the different stories and upbringings of all of these individuals. The stories ranged from pranks to smoking on a plane to wrestling. There was a large range of ages and backgrounds represented, which made the stories very interesting.

Bill Clock is a musician and pottery maker who lives in the area. He mostly talked about his dad, specifically the profound influence he had on his life. His Dad was one of the most interesting people I have ever heard of. His dedication to arts and crafts led him to a very adventurous life, traveling to England with his family to continue his craft. Bill was gracious enough to bring in his father’s  collection of pottery and artwork in for everyone to look at. Just by looking at the beautiful pieces of artwork on display, you could see the devotion and time his father put into his craft.

The amount of respect that Bill had for his father was something to behold. Moreover, every word describing Bill’s father held some kind of reverence. He was very proud of his dad for being so dedicated to his craft and basing his life off of something he loved so dearly. The love between father and son was a part of his talk that made me listen very intently. Even when his father was losing his abilities and getting into many political arguments in later years he still viewed his father as a stand-up guy. When Bill’s father passed away, it was very hard for Bill because their relationship was so strong. His father gave them many different opportunities like being able to live in England on and off for many years. Bill Clock’s life was one that was very unique and something that many kids around the world would love to have. There were many incredible places he traveled to, and many unforgettable like experiences to speak of.

At the end of the incubator meeting, Hwei-Ling had each member of the audience state different aspects of their father’s personality that they themselves have inherited. The answers were quite varied but all had a similar theme. Many of these individuals had something bad that they gained from their father like being stubborn or inheriting bad habits. However, they also inherited some very important personality aspects like discipline, hard work, being positive, and not judging people at first glance. One inheritance from a father figure that struck me was a father who was emotionally present for everyone in the family. This man said his father always exhibited, unconditional love and compassion to everyone he knew. I thought this statement was incredibly poignant because we desperately need these two things in our society today. Without these two things, people experiencing homeless and low income individuals will continued to be ignored. Also something else that struck me was the fact that two individuals opened up about not having a father growing up. In their eyes their mother was both the father and mother figure in their lives. As someone who grew up in a very stable heteronormative household I could not imagine being raised by only one parent. However, both of the individuals who spoke up were still able to become strong wonderful people in their own right. It was nice to hear Bill Clock’s words on his father and pottery making and we wish him the best in the future.

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ACC hosts free incubator workshop on Wednesdays from 10 am to 11:30 am. Free lunch for all. For a list of the weekly incubator workshops, go to ACC's website, http://www.amherstcommunityconnections.net/new-events/

 

By,

Kevin Hanley

Yoga for Relaxation

On June 20th, ACC invited Sasha Rivera to lead a yoga session to help all participants find a new means of relaxing. Before Sasha arrived, the participants went around introducing themselves and sharing activities they personally find helpful when trying to relax. Some great ideas people have mentioned are: going outside for fresh air, exercising to release endorphins, drinking hot tea or coffee, meditating, singing/making music, taking a moment to collect one’s thoughts, and sleeping. And when Sasha joined the conversation, she - with no surprise - answered yoga!

Here’s a little bit about Sasha. She is an Embodyoga® instructor (RYT 200, meaning that she is a registered yoga teacher who has completed 200-hour teacher training) in the Pioneer Valley. “She helps her students find support for their movements from the inside out, utilizing Embodyoga®’s movement principles and templates for whole-body support. With Sasha you will learn to connect to and radiate out from your center, bring breath and awareness deeper into your body, and move safely and easefully from one asana (posture) to the next.” Sasha offers classes that are flowing and dynamic for a range of levels. ACC was happy to have such passionate and qualified yoga instructor visit us!

Before trying out some yoga exercises, Sasha explained the different styles and types of yoga. Bikram consists of a specific sequence of poses and breathing exercises. For those who gravitate toward a set routine may enjoy Bikram because of its predictable nature. Hot yoga, similar to Bikram, is practiced in a heated room (like a sauna) and allows one to move deeper into some poses. For those who love a tough workout and are sweat lovers, give hot yoga a try. Last but not least is Embodyoga, the style that she teaches. Embodyoga allows us to enter the body-mind fully, drawing our attention to each organ, tissue, and cell. For those who looking to feel revitalized through a sense of awareness and liveliness, this style if for you!

For a full hour, Sasha created a sensational and relaxing yoga experience for the participants. Sasha guided us through some beginner-level chair and standing exercises and finished with soothing breathing exercises. 60 minutes may seem long; however, all the participants unanimously agreed that time whizzed by, surely because they were having fun. As they say that pictures speak louder than words, here are some highlights from the event!

After a relaxing hour of gentle yoga, Sasha finishes by saying, “I encourage you to explore, as you go about your day or your week, noticing physical sensations, feelings in your breathing and in your body, and making choices about what might make you feel good or better.”

Thank you, Sasha for an unique and therapeutic yoga session! ACC has a few free yoga passes for Amherst Yoga Center. If anyone is interested, please drop by to pick up a yoga pass!

ACC hosts free incubator workshop on Wednesdays from 10 am to 11:30 am. Free lunch for all. For a list of the weekly incubator workshops, go to ACC's website, http://www.amherstcommunityconnections.net/new-events/

 

By: Clara Seo

Life is like an EKG

Everyone experiences highs and lows in life, just like an EKG. Today, ACC welcome Lynette Bloise a professor from the University of Massachusetts to talk about the highs and lows of our lives and how we can carry on throughout. If our life doesn’t have the highs and lows like an EKG we are essentially dead, is how Lynette likes to put it.

Lynette Bloise moved to the United States in 1984 from Puerto Rico and has had her fair share of hardships. She shared her life experiences with the group that we had at our weekly Wednesday incubator meetings, and many people could relate to the “up and down” type of lifestyle she was talking about.

Lynette believes that we all are on this earth equally, but that we all have a different journey and a different heart that leads us down different paths. She believes we are all equal because “Nobody comes out of life alive”. She shared the story of Viktor Frankl who was in a concentration camp in 1942 and was there for three years. Most of his family, including his pregnant wife, perished in the camps, but the managed to survive. Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning. He saw that those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. 

Lynette then read a quote from a philosopher that said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost anyhow”. This means that if you have something to live for, you can do anything you put your mind to. We went around the room and people shared their own ‘why’ in life and the examples ranged from grandkids and great grandkids to education and music or nature.

Lynette truly believes that kindness has a ripple effect. She said, “If I touch one life, then that one person is going to touch five more, it’s a ripple effect like in the ocean.”   

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"Fake" News

Radio, newspaper, word of mouth, television, computer, and magazines are all ways to receive news. But how do we know if the information in the news is true?  Today, one of our interns Alexandra Shore gave a presentation on “fake news”. She is currently a sophomore journalism student and wanted to share her recently learned knowledge on how to sift through fact or fiction.

There is one test that she put the main focus on which is the C.R.A.A.P Test, an acronym which is supposed to remind people that there is a list of steps we can take to sift through the information.

 The C stands for currency:

  • How recent is the information?

The R stands for Relevance:

·      Who is the intended audience?

Authority:

·      Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?

·      What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?

·      Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), .org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)

Accuracy:

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose:

  • What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

One tip Alexandra shared with the group is to always take information with a grain of salt until you have time to fact check the information.

 

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Today, we welcomed Maureen Groden who gave us the pleasure of sharing her knowledge about women’s leadership and how to deal with loss and grief.

The first half of our meeting we discussed women in leadership positions. Maureen Groden is part of her towns select board, she is a professor at the University of Massachusetts, and has been a leader of many other organizations in her career.

Women are often still viewed as “new” to leadership. Although we can think of Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth, the women of the women’s rights movement in the 20’s, somehow women are still outnumbered by men in leadership positions. In universities, businesses, courts, unions, and religious institutions, male leaders outnumber female leaders by wide margins.

Maureen helped us think about why that might be, and a lot of people who attended our meeting kept referring to the topic of culture. This is because in our society whenever we think of leadership we tend to think of competitiveness, masculinity, and individualism, and all of these things are traits that men are known to have. Women are expected to act like men which causes women to embrace the competitive culture and masculinity  in order to be taken seriously and seen as a true leader. Maureen believes that we need to restructure our values of leadership.

For the second half of our incubator meeting, we focused on ways to cope with loss and grief. Maureen worked in many Hospice’s and said she had become accustomed to dealing with not only loss, but how to comfort those who have lost.

We first discussed how you don’t need to have someone pass away to feel loss. Someone can physically still be living but due to substance abuse and addiction it can feel like a loss. The second thing we discussed is that everyone grieves differently, and sometimes it may feel as though people have certain expectations on what the right way to grieve is. But Maureen shared that grief is normal and there is no right or wrong way to deal with it.

Maureen left us with grief care notes that we can refer to and one quote that stuck out said, “Grief is the most intense and enduring emotion we can experience. There is no quick fix. There is no short cut. An ancient African saying is “There is no way out of the desert except through it.” Each of us will take a different route and will travel at his/her own speed using the tools provided by his/her own culture, experience, and faith.”

At the end of our meeting we all wrote down names of people we were grieving and put them in a basket. We then slowly filled a glass container with different colored sands to remind us of the people we were grieving. We then lit a candle in the sand and said a moment of silence. 

 

By: Alexandra Shore

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Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program

Everyone who attended our weekly incubator meeting today shared their tips on how to stay healthy. People mentioned examples such as drinking water, exercising, and getting 8 hours of sleep. But when it came to keeping Kidney function healthy some were stumped. Thankfully we welcomed students from Amherst College who are part of the KDSAP, or the Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program.

The students of the KDSAP program explained that Chronic Kidney Disease is a “silent killer”. Kidney diseases are also increasingly recognized as a public health concern because chronic kidney disease (CKD) is very costly to treat. Raising kidney awareness can help detect CKD early on and thus prevent complications of decreased kidney function, slow the progression of kidney disease, and reduce the risk of other associated diseases. In order to prevent Kidney Disease, we learned that we need to control high blood pressure and diabetes, avoid medicines like ibuprofen and other herbal medicines that hurt kidneys, drink lots of water (2L a day), avoid too much protein and sodium, and also exercising 5 times a week.

A lot of attention was also brought to how patients can be empowered when talking to doctors about kidney health. KDSAP recommended asking these three questions:

·       How is my Kidney function?

·       Ask how they know kidney function is good or bad

·       Then ask what can you do on to fix the problem or keep staying healthy

Since Chronic Kidney Disease is known as a “silent killer” some ACC participants were concerned about figuring out how to identify symptoms. There are often no symptoms until permanent damage has happened to your kidneys but when symptoms do occur, they include:

  1. Fatigue and weakness
  2. Swelling of the legs
  3. Itching
  4. Headaches
  5. Nausea and vomiting
  6. Frequent urination
  7. Painful or difficult urination
  8. Bloody urine

The KDSAP program will be hosting a kidney screening this Saturday, March 31st from 1-5 at the Unitarian Church in downtown Amherst. Some of the participants who attended the information session today were curious about how the screening process will work so the students LaMarcus, Sam, and Caroline explained the steps:

1.     Registration

2.     Questionnaire

3.     Health Education

4.     Blood Pressure

5.     BMI + Waist Circumference

6.     Urinalysis

7.     Blood Glucose

8.     Private Physician Consultation

Anyone who attends the kidney screening and completes all the steps will be awarded a bus pass for keeping kidney health in check!

 

By: Alexandra Shore

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FYI on Applying for SSI

“What are obstacles to applying for Social Security?” was the question at the heart of David Waldfogel’s talk at last week’s incubator meeting on March 14. As an attorney for the Center of Public Representation, Mr. Waldfogel acts as legal representative for people whose Social Security cases have been denied. This Wednesday, he shared with us some advice he has collected from years of working with low-income clients.

Arranged in a U-shape around Mr. Waldfogel, the meeting stared with introductions as we mused on the question – what are obstacles to applying for Social Security we face in our own lives? After responding to the concerns and experiences of those gathered around him, Mr. Waldfogel jumped right in to clear up the confusion surrounding the Social Security system.

For Mr. Waldfogel, he sees lack of internet access and no reliable mailing address as the two biggest obstacles to applying for Social Security. Because the Social Security application is handled online, having internet access is critical for starting the application and contacting support if anything goes wrong. Having a permanent mailing address is just as important, because Social Security mails out updates on applications and applicants only have a 60-day window to appeal if their case is denied.

The key to applying for Social Security, he says, lies in the first question of the application: “Are you unable to work because of illnesses, injuries or conditions?” Social Security judges whether applicants qualify based on their ability to pursue “successful gainful activity.” In other words, whether they can work and make money. Mr. Waldfogel stresses, no matter what conditions applicants have, if it does not prevent them from earning money, then Social Security does not care.

That’s why Mr. Waldfogel advises applicants to present everything: therapy, emergency room, primary care doctor, medications, etc. He says that a common mistake people make is that they leave certain medical conditions out of their application. Because the combination of impairments is important to establish the whole picture of the applicant and make a stronger case for why they are not able to work, he says to report every single medical condition bothering the applicant when they apply.

Additionally, Mr. Waldfogel cautioned us against some of the other mistakes that people applying for Social Security make. A common misconception, he says, is that people need to see a doctor and have their full medical history in order before they apply. However, this is not the case – Social Security is the one responsible for collecting the medical information – and applicants who wait end up “cheating themselves” out of the time they could be receiving benefits. Furthermore, if an application is denied, he says, the worst thing you can do is to not appeal, thinking that you can just apply again. Mr. Waldfogel warns against dropping the appeal because not only do you lose all retroactive money (money they owe you that wasn’t given during the appeal), but you also go back to square one. Instead, he says it is better to persevere.

In the hour and a half together, Mr. Waldfogel guided us through a quick but comprehensive tour into how the system works. Not only clarifying the difference between SSDI and SSI (earned insurance vs. need based) and the various cutoffs for payments amounts (Maximum $750 federal + $114 from Massachusetts per month), but he also tackled tough questions about the participants’ own experiences and details about the bureaucracy of the Social Security system. After the meeting, I couldn’t help but feel that the meeting itself helped overcome a huge obstacle – lack of information. I left feeling enlightened.

By: Emily Ma

If you want legal advice or have been denied for Social Security benefits – especially more than two times – you can call Mr. Waldfogel’s office at 413-586-6024. If you win the case, the office collects 25% of your winnings or $6000, whichever is less. If you don’t win, then no fees involved. He emphasizes that he cannot help people apply for Social Security, only with appeals. For the actual application process, there are resources at Amherst Community Connections, including Jane Braaten, who is certified by Social Security to help fill out the application. 

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