As part of the International Health track of the Epidemiology program, I often forget that direct impact can be made locally through simple means. In fact, anyone can “practice” public health through top-down or bottom-up approaches. Some examples of the different approaches are discussed in the first 3 paragraphs here.
Due to the struggling economy, tent cities are cropping up all over the states. In fact, just a short distance from SPH, is a homeless community called, Camp Take-Notice (CTN). Renown intellectuals, Cornel West and Tavis Smiley recently visited the camp as part of their Poverty Tour of America. Last week, a couple of friends and I decided to take an impromptu trip to the area to speak with the residents and understand their daily lives.
The camp is cozily nestled in the woods between two major highways on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. Each of the fifty or so residents have private tents and sleeping bags. Heaters are provided in the winter – though most residents migrate somewhere warmer. There is a common area with a large tent complete with propane stove and kitchen supplies. Another tent on a wooden platform provides additional tools for maintaining the camp. Most of the residents are either working part-time or actively looking for work and a few have been able to save enough money for an apartment in town.
Once we arrived, introductions were made and we were put to work fixing-up a dirt stairway leading from the road to camp. Afterward, we were invited to join the residents for dinner – provided by a local church. When dinner was finished, we took a quick tour of the camp and joined their weekly meeting. The meeting is a chance for residents to air grievances, praise each other for helping out and make requests for necessities. Overall, it was fascinating explore this alternative to homelessness and how community can alleviate suffering.
Most businesses in Ann Arbor don’t hire homeless people. The residents of CTN have stability, community and a semi-permanent place to live. Additionally, the skills they develop through their work maintaining the camp are transferable. However, the stigmatization of homeless people is difficult to contend with and employers will not consider hiring them without a proper address.
Regardless of background and future career goals, all of us here at SPH have the opportunity to look at both the global and domestic determinants of health. Public health issues exist everywhere - so stop by, help out and above all take-notice.