Students contribute to public housing improvements
Public housing in San Francisco is undergoing a transformation, and SF State students are helping to improve some of the city's most impoverished and crime-ridden communities.
The city is in the process of rebuilding housing at four public housing communities in the Hunters Point, Bayview and Potrero Hill neighborhoods. This week, public health graduate students began the second phase of a project that gives them a hands-on role in planning new health strategies for residents.
"The city is rebuilding the physical housing, but they're also going to rebuild health services and activities for the people that live there," said Jessica Wolin, health education clinical faculty and associate director for community practice of the Health Equity Institute. "In terms of services, the most critical health issues in these communities are violence, mental health and substance abuse. That's what we're really focused on."
Health Equity for HOPE SF, is a combined effort among SF State's Health Equity Institute (HEI) and Department of Health Education, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and HOPE SF, an affordable housing initiative, led by the San Francisco mayor’s office and funded by city, federal and private sources. Wolin, who is co-leading the Health Equity for HOPE SF collaboration, arranged for 20 students pursuing their master's in Public Health degrees to connect with these communities as part of a fieldwork requirement. The project is part of this long-term collaboration, and students have begun to interview residents and policymakers about challenges facing the communities and possible improvements.
"As a group, we were definitely appreciative of the opportunity to work with communities that some of us have not experienced or engaged with before," said student Sarah Wongking, who participated in the program and is now a fieldwork coordinator for the Department of Health Education and Health Equity for HOPE SF coordinator for HEI. "It was a great opportunity for us to really get to know the city and the history of these communities."
In the first phase of the project last year, Wongking and her fellow students focused their assessment activities on examining ways that community leaders could help their neighbors deal with pressures and challenges in public housing. At the start of the spring semester, a new group of students started a community assessment focused on mental health. This summer, the student assessment will result in actionable recommendations and strategies that will be taken to the communities over the coming years.
"The recommendations we've looked at so far include encouraging community engagement by supporting peer leaders and focusing on sustainability," said Wongking.
The collaboration’s leaders, are now developing a funding strategy based in part on the student’s recommendations, while interviews about mental health in HOPE SF communities will begin in April.
"These are communities that our students don't normally get to interact with. It's a real learning experience for many of them," said Wolin. "It's a great link between theoretical learning of the classroom and real world experience."
-- Philip Riley