we hung about the tenderloin

I spent all of today in the Tenderloin with my health services cohort. During the day, we visited six different social service agencies, where we talked with MSWs working at those agencies about what they do, what it’s like working in that particular community, and why they do it.

As they are all in the same neighborhood, these agencies of course face many common challenges. But the most striking things that people brought up at every agency were (1) being short staffed (i.e., they usually have 9 staff but only have 3 right now; they usually have 4 social workers but only have two right now, and so on) and (2) how the recent California budget cuts have made a drastic impact on their organizations and the people they serve. Scary stuff, especially when you’re seeing the effects on the ground in the TL. It’s literally frightening to think about what that neighborhood would be like without the help of the agencies that are there. . .and those agencies are struggling, across the board.

Healthcare came up a lot, too, which also is not surprising. One person’s story particularly stuck with me: She is a 62-year-old woman who lost her job (and her health insurance) almost a decade ago. Despite not having had any major illnesses in her life, she came down with a rare illness three months after losing her coverage. Long story short, she had to spend a year in the hospital, and she ended up going completely bankrupt — lost her house, car, all of her cash and savings — due to the medical bills. She’s been homeless, off and on, ever since.

I feel like I’ve been thinking this a lot lately, but if that woman’s story isn’t an argument for the need for universal coverage, I don’t know what is. Of course, I personally believe that healthcare is a right for every person, not a privilege for those who can afford it. But as a response to people who disagree with that, who think that people who work get insurance and shouldn’t have to pay for coverage for people who don’t work, this story exemplifies that it is possible to be a hard-working, solidly middle-class person and lose everything because of the medical bills from one major illness that happens at the wrong time. The whole thing completely incenses me.

A highlight of the day for me was eating lunch at the St. Anthony Foundation dining room. It’s been a while since I’ve eaten at a food program, and it’s something I find a lot of value in. I was slightly worried that after today, I’d rethink my recent interest in and inclination to try out hospital social work — that I’d realize/remember that where I really belong is in a neighborhood like the TL, on the ground, on the streets. And while I do love working in communities like that, and don’t think it’s out of the question to ever be there again, I am still excited about trying something new and seeing how that goes. I should have more details about my first-year internship next week.

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