On the Anniversary of George Floyd’s Death
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
Yesterday marked a year since the murder of George Floyd under the knees of police brutality.
His death brought on a reckoning and imperative to practice critical and crucial conversations on the historical and continued racist harm experienced by the black community and an intense examination of our current systems, norms, and bias that perpetuate racism and inequities.
As part of a national collective of community health centers, our mission is our community. At Share Our Selves we are committed to equality, systemic change, compassionate and empathetic leadership. Through these principles we will continue to work against inequality, systemic injustices, racism, and abuse of power.
We leave our imagination of a world without racism into living what that anti-racist world would be like. It begins with you, me, all of us. We must because of George Floyd and many others before and after him. Black Live Matter. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.
Chief Executive Officer
The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities has tragically seen an increase in targeted hate crimes and racist attacks, most recently are the six victims of Asian ethnicity, murdered in Atlanta. In our own Orange County community, 66 hate incidents have been documented in the last year and many more that are unreported. The most frequently reported hate crimes in Orange County were motivated by the race, ethnicity, and /or national origin of those targeted. These hate crimes exacerbated by anti-Asian rhetoric, blaming Asian people for the pandemic.
At Share Our Selves Community Health Center (SOS) we are disturbed and saddened by these recent events and prevalence of racist hate against the AAPI community. We do not tolerate racist and xenophobic language and actions that hurt and harm our targeted community members. We are a galvanized collective of community health centers, partners, and people refusing to be silent.
SOS has a mission that includes being an advocate for systemic change. To dismantle racist systems, we must learn, unlearn, and lift up and live in communities of equity and love. We fiercely and publicly stand against racism in all forms and are committed to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in our organization and the communities we are a part of and serve.
Because our collective silence will protect no one.
Chief Executive Officer
*Image Source: https://caasf.org/stop-aapi-hate/Read More
The weather was sunny and mild on a recent Thursday morning as the Share Our Selves (SOS) Mobile Health Unit — a converted RV fitted out with all of the equipment of a brick and mortar medical clinic — pulled up to the Huntington Beach Navigation Center. SOS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jay W. Lee and Eligibility Supervisor Lidia Campos set up tables, chairs, and a pop-up tent, preparing to provide primary medical care to the residents of the homeless shelter.
“We’re here to be the trusted source of medical care for the homeless living in this shelter,” Dr. Lee said. “In the beginning [with homeless patients] there are a lot of questions like, ‘what are you doing here, who are you?’ and so we’re trying to build that trust so that we can grow our presence here over time.” At mobile health clinics Dr. Lee provides a medical assessment to the patients, sets up any follow-up appointments, and helps with referrals if a specialist is needed. He is usually helped out with blood pressure readings, weight checks, and data recording by a Medical Assistant and Physician’s assistant, but on this day all the tasks fell to him.
The navigation center, which operates through a partnership between the city of Huntington Beach and the nonprofit organization Mercy House, opened in December with 176 beds, although due to COVID-19 many of those beds are going unused. Residents get three meals a day plus snacks, a locker for their belongings, clean bathroom and shower facilities, and weekly meetings with a counselor to help them work towards getting permanent housing. It is one of the few shelters offering RV parking for residents, and there is also room for couples and pets.
The first patient of the day was Chris Patapoff. Chris was one of the first residents of the shelter and is grateful to be off of the streets. He is trying to get housing but is having trouble because he doesn’t have an ID card. “I can’t get my ID from the DMV without my birth certificate, but to get my birth certificate I have to go to LA and pay $40. I don’t have a car and I don’t have $40.” Additionally, due to the pandemic residents are only allowed to leave one day a week to go to appointments, shop, go to job interviews, or take care of any other business.
“I think that highlights the structural challenges that patients have when they are poor and unsheltered or homeless: things that seem routine for us, like going up to LA from Orange County, can be barriers that are impossible to overcome without significant effort and time,” said Dr. Lee. He said that the pandemic has made the situation worse. “The bottom line is that Covid has made it more complicated. Things that were already complex are more complicated now.”
Despite the impediments, Chris is optimistic about getting back on his feet and glad to have organizations like SOS delivering the services people like him need to persevere. “It went really well,” he said after his appointment. “I got a lot of information that I needed. You have all the medication that I needed. I was really impressed that you got my blood pressure, my other readings, you got all this good stuff. And you’re here every two weeks and I like that. So I’ll be back in two weeks!”
As the morning progressed, more patients received medical assessments from Dr. Lee as Lidia Campos checked on their eligibility for health insurance, food stamps, and any other programs they might be able to enroll in. Most are eligible for health coverage through Medi-Cal, although they may not know how to sign up or may be hesitant for a variety of reasons. “Some of the population doesn’t know what programs they’re eligible for, especially people who don’t have legal status. But if they have a chronic condition or urgent medical need they can always apply for it. However, they need to request it, and they need to know their rights and responsibilities for it.” Lidia is there to make sure they know what programs are available and guide them through the enrollment process, which can be daunting. She can assure them that SOS cares for everyone, regardless of their legal status.
Midway through the morning, Dr. Lee felt good about the day’s progress. Despite some technical glitches he was able to access the medical records system through wi-fi and make appropriate changes to the patients’ charts.
“We’re seeing a mix of things today,” Dr. Lee said about the patients’ health. “A lot of musculo-skeletal complaints, a lot of chronic diseases. I will say I think people sometimes underestimate just how motivated homeless people are to do the right thing for their health.”
Dr. Lee said it is often not a lack of effort that leads to poor health among the homeless, but issues they have little or no control over. “They often feel stuck because their food options are limited,” Dr. Lee said, “and I had a really good conversation earlier today with a patient that wanted to have more choice and ability to purchase healthier options. And so everyone is motivated and part of it is having that conversation and tapping into that as the way to get to behavior change.”
“It’s not that people are lazy,” that leads to chronic homelessness, Dr. Lee said. “They’re trying mightily and they’re just finding that it’s a Sisyphean task to take care of themselves.”
As the clinic continued, more residents came out to see what was happening. Some asked for appointments and seemed eager to tell their stories, some stood quietly near the periphery. “Tom” asked that we not take his photo but was happy to share his story. He lived with his father in a mobile home park until his dad passed away in 2011. After that, Tom was asked to leave because the park was for senior citizens and Tom was middle-aged.
He bounced around friends’ and relatives’ couches for a while, then lived with a girlfriend in a motel, but left when it was raided for drugs. Then he lived on the streets. He said he was told years ago by a doctor that the best way to manage his schizophrenia and delusions was restful sleep and low stress. When he lived with his dad he would practice table tennis six hours a day to keep himself calm. On the streets, he rarely slept and had to be on the alert at all times, which made it hard to keep his mental health problems under control.
For Tom, being homeless was immensely difficult. He learned that a wall with high bushes or a restroom with a lock were the best places to sleep safely. He learned many other hard lessons he didn’t want to talk about, and was happy and relieved to be living in the shelter. He’s hoping to move to permanent housing after his medical assessment from Dr. Lee.
“I was very impressed with Dr. Lee, even though he’s not related to Bruce Lee,” Tom said with a laugh.
Another clinic visitor, Jane, spoke to Lidia as the clinic was packing up. She was not looking for a medical appointment, but help navigating the Medi-Cal application process. She showed Lidia a folder full of forms, letters, and other documents, and said she was frustrated that she could not get anyone from Medi-Cal on the phone.
Lidia asked for information so that she could look up her case, but Jane became suspicious and combative. She said that she is acting as her own advocate and survived on the streets because she is tough and smart and not quick to trust just anyone. Once Lidia explained that she worked for SOS, however, Jane’s mood changed. She smiled and said she had come to us for help before and had been treated very well.
“They blessed me with food. They blessed me with a Target card when I needed underwear, and I needed it. They blessed me with clothes. They got me plugged in to domestic violence recovery. There’s love there.” Jane asked that people who hear her story or see her on the street not judge her, but pray for her. “My name is Jane. I am homeless now but I am homeward bound. I’m not my circumstances. I didn’t make a foolish decision. What I need is to work a part-time job to function in this society. And I’m going to do that.”
As Dr. Lee retracted the canopy on the RV and prepared to leave the shelter, he reflected on the day and what he has learned through his time working with the homeless. “We were busy! This was the largest number of patients we’ve seen in a half day. I think our steady presence here is paying off.” He said many of the challenges facing the homeless such as access to medical care, dental care, behavioral health services, and more will be alleviated once SOS is able to link them to our clinics, where those services are available.
“I’m just glad we’re getting a nice rhythm and cadence with folks and they’re feeling comfortable to come and see us. I think a big piece of this is being present where people need us. Ultimately what that means is being consistent, being kind, and in a way you have to be vulnerable yourself. We try to bring that level of service and kindness to the work and we’ll continue to bring that wherever we go.”Read More
While the pandemic continues to affect all of us, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We are excited to share with you that SOS is working with the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) on securing COVID-19 vaccine inventory and best plans for the administration of the vaccine.
Our team is in the process of creating a safe dispersal plan for the inventory we receive in dedicated locations that maintain our low-COVID environment protocols. We are mapping out the best strategy for the administration of the vaccine with regards to eligibility, a patient-first emphasis, and a demographic focus on vulnerability in step with state and county guidelines. We will provide more information on how to schedule your vaccination appointment as soon as information is made available.
Obviously, you may have many questions. It goes without saying that the initial rollout of the vaccine nationwide has been less than smooth and the allotment of doses SOS receives is out of our control. We are navigating all obstacles in this unprecedented endeavor as we are in constant communication with OCHCA and other agencies to provide as clear a process as possible to our community with a focus on strategic and rapid dispersal of the doses we receive.
We recommend visiting OCHCA’s Vaccine Distribution page for detailed information on vaccination in Orange County.
This news brings great hope to our community, but we all must exhibit patience as news, inventory, and planning will be evolving day by day. We thank you for your diligence in continuing to wear masks, stay home, and practice social distancing. We look forward to keeping you up to date with the best information we have.
Chief Executive Officer
Reflections on the Violent Riot at our US Capitol and Our Commitment to Systemic Change
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It was deeply saddening yet not shocking witnessing, along with our entire country, the violence last week at our US capitol. At Share Our Selves, we believe in the right to free speech and to peaceful protest. And at the same time, we strongly condemn the violence committed and hate speech perpetuated in the name of our democracy.
That today we recognize and celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is not lost on me. Dr. King took a moral position against injustice, armed with nonviolence to fight racism and white supremacy. We continue his legacy by standing against systemic injustices in the work we do as a community health center.
Share Our Selves was founded on the principles of service to fellow neighbors providing the most basic human needs. We stood up against racism and discrimination as we served migrants and people experiencing homelessness. We advocate for systemic change to ensure health equity for our communities and those we serve. Our work extends beyond our clinic four walls in our local, statewide, and national health care partnerships and collaboratives.
As one of our core values of JUSTICE, we have an ongoing commitment to advocate for change in those structures and systems that unjustly affect the vulnerable and disadvantaged. We will continue to build on this commitment in our long-term planning and partnerships because it is the right thing to do.
Chief Executive Officer
Early in the pandemic, prior to joining SOS, I recall leaving the room of a nursing home patient. I left her listless, drooling, and alone. Her death was imminent and as I left her room, I found myself in tears. People die frequently in nursing homes, but this death felt different. It was the first in a locked down facility—she would die alone.
It is crushing to think about all who have died without friends or family by their side. It is a human tragedy not distant from many of our lived realities. A life is to be celebrated and grieved in community, but community is what many of us lost this past year. Early in the pandemic, I recall feeling fearful of my patients. Who has COVID-19? Is it you? Is it me? My wife and I were expecting our son, now 9 months old, and we both feared that she would have to deliver alone, or worse, that she would get COVID-19, perhaps from me, and be separated from our son at birth. Every dark possibility was a possibility. Overnight the world changed into a place where friends were dangerous, celebrations were dangerous, and hugging your mother, partner, child, or grandparent could inflict real harm.
I’d like to think that 2020 has left me, and all of us, a bit wiser—that we take less for granted, and appreciate that love and community are what matters. If we are wiser, it is likely our grief that has left us clear-eyed about the world.
This morning, I asked our team in Costa Mesa what they hoped for in the new year. Most expressed grief over separation from loved ones and a desire to reunite without reservation. I want to do the same. My niece was born 4 days ago. I want to hold her. I want to sit close to my parents without the fear that I might harm them. I don’t want to fear the patient I am here to heal.
Yesterday, with the first 32 vaccines administered at Costa Mesa and even more at our sister clinics, we have taken another hopeful step towards what should be. I saw tears, which embody a year of pain and grief, but undoubtedly hope, and even joy, that things will be as they should be. But as we focus our hope on this vaccine, let me be clear about one thing—you have been as things should be. Throughout this past year, you have been unique expressions of love to each other, our patients, and our community—recognize the unique hope that each of you brings and continue to lean into that, as a pandemic-free world without this type of hope is still a dark one.
Dr. Edwin Kwon, Medical Director
SOS Community Health Clinic Costa Mesa
As the holidays approach and the year is winding down, I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you. Amidst all the struggle, loss, and heartache of the past year, we’ve been amazed at the solidarity and resiliency our community has shown when facing such unprecedented times. From continuing to provide quality Whole Person Care and addressing COVID-19 on the front lines to most recently completing a socially distant SOS Adopt A Family Program for the 51st time, it has been encouraging to see, and humbling to receive, your support.
While the New Year brings many uncertainties, I believe it also brings hope. My personal hope is that you are able to celebrate the holidays with those you love even if it might look and feel very different this year. But whether in person, by phone, or even via Zoom, it is important to seize the opportunity to share in the joy of the holidays together. For right now, it’s a time to take a deep breath, a step back, and enjoy the season.
Thank you again from all of us at SOS, and happy holidays!
Chief Executive Officer
If you are interested, there is still time to make an impact before the end of the year.
As we recently held a socially distanced version of our SOS First In Family College Readiness Program, we were delighted to support a number of new high school grads who are the first in their families to be heading to college. We asked participants to submit their personal stories as applications for potential scholarships that were generously provided by an SOS donor. Here is one such story.
“For as long as I can remember, my mom has always stressed the importance of education and how it will take me far in life. Unable to afford an education at a young age, my mother was forced to give up on the idea of receiving further education. As an immigrant from Vietnam, my mom would sometimes tell me how willing she is to attend a school and study, but unfortunately, she is incapable of doing so. Busy from morning till evening, with only one day off and running a family to the best of her abilities, work steals her time. Both my immigrant parents came to America with the thought of starting anew and renewing their hope, but were unfortunately left to have low-paying jobs and little to no new opportunities. Because my parents are living with little chances to improve their life, I want to be the person to improve their lives and my own life.
Along with my mom, who is my number one supporter, my teachers, counselor, mentors, and other important figures in my life have expressed to me that I’ll go on to accomplish great things in the future. I used to doubt my achievements and viewed them as the results of actions that I simply took to satisfy my own needs. But then, I began to realize that I do have great potential and I want to continue proving their statements right. Constantly on the outlook for improvements and investing my time and efforts for a better future, I motivate myself by reminding myself how I already have more than enough and that countless opportunities are out there waiting for me.
Upon entering college, I plan to major in Business Administration with hopes of entering into the financial management field. To get anywhere near my goals and dreams, attending college would naturally be my next step. All of this used to seem distant and out of reach, but through endless support and my undying desire to succeed, college is now more close than ever and I want to make the best of it. Inching toward a better future, I want to prove to myself and those around me that you can go far, no matter where you begin. And so, fueled by passion and purpose, I will make my goals become my achievements.”Read More
HOW DO YOU FIGHT THE FATIGUE that is setting in during this pandemic? Your exhaustion is warranted. Your frustration is justified. Challenges we had imagined to be temporary are existing far longer than any of us expected. We are facing record unemployment, inequity in access to stabilizing resources, and millions without a safety net are becoming increasingly more vulnerable. This was not how any of us saw 2020 going.
While everything feels overwhelming, we must be reminded of the small steps and actions that we each can make to confront our exhaustion and lead to change. As we work the front lines battling COVID-19, we can assure you, at many times it has been a trying and taxing environment. But at the same time, the increasing need to improve and expand COVID testing in Orange County while ensuring we are still able to serve our patients in a safe and healthy environment has been our core motivation over the past few months.
So what is the key ingredient? Resiliency. Willful and intentional. For 50 years, Share Our Selves (SOS) has diligently served Orange County’s most vulnerable. Throughout our history, our mission has remained steadfast. But our history, as well as our future, is tethered to the collective engagement of our community. We’ve seen the momentum and results that come from passionate people coming together.
There might not be a more crucial time than now to consider how we work together to tackle the pressing issues we are facing. The unemployment rate in Orange County was at 13.9% in June, up from 2.9% at that same time last year. According to Share Our Selves CEO, Christy Ward, “The needs in our community are growing as we see an increase in unemployment and increasing numbers for not only our direct healthcare services, but in the number of families who have come to our food pantry.”
Our current environment requires something unique. To catalyze this moment, we have launched our RESTORE OC Movement. Our goal is to create opportunities for individuals, local businesses, students, political leaders, corporate partners, friends and families to play an active role in the restoration of Orange County. Everyone is capable of making a difference, but many feel disconnected from the avenues to do so. This inclusive initiative is intended to provide the education, tools, opportunities, and resources that empower people to make a tangible impact on the lives of those most affected by COVID-19.
- VOLUNTEER: As individuals or groups, we want to plug you in with opportunities to volunteer in a safe, low-COVID environment.
- ENGAGE: Follow us on social media and read our blog updates! We’ve also adopted digital tools that promote peer-to-peer fundraising. You are able to creatively engage your family, peers, and co-workers in fun ways to increase awareness, education, and funding.
- GIVE: For those who have the capacity to give financially during these trying times, your support is critical. Your generosity is an investment in vital and services in your community that results in a direct impact.
So how do we combat fatigue during this pandemic? Resiliency. Hope. Action. We admit, this is not necessarily easy. You have to acknowledge the realities of our community and determine if change is worth fighting for. You have to part ways with cynicism and embrace the possibility that systemic change is possible. You have to believe that you are capable of more than you imagine. You have to be willing to take that first step. For over 50 years, we have believed in the power of transformative change. Being part of the solution allows for self-transformation while we collectively provide access to resources and care. Together, we can RESTORE OC.Read More
Whether learning remotely or in a classroom, children must be equipped with the tools necessary to actively engage in learning. To that end, we were determined to ensure our annual SOS Back To School program would be able to exist this year.
On Saturday, August 15th, a handful of SOS staff and volunteers held our first-ever socially distanced Back To School Backpack Distribution. Rather than having parents and students line up to receive their backpacks, we created a drive-thru pick up line with SOS staff and leadership delivering backpacks full of essential school supplies directly into the trunks of family vehicles Altogether, we were able to provide 455 children backpacks.
Our volunteers were joined by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris who had been assisting the program for a few weeks leading up to the backpack distribution to ensure sufficient supplies were gathered and backpacks were assembled.
We could not be more grateful for our community supporters for making this important annual event possible. In addition to Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris, we could not have done this without the amazing support from Tilly’s, Marriott Southwest Sales, St. Christopher, Mater Dei, and our amazing donors. The collaborative efforts of our community made it a true success!Read More