My Quest to Help the Unsheltered and the Story Behind the Soul Shoe Project - Dec 1st, 2021
With the current pandemic forcing many of us to do our work online from home, I was able to see and understand the patient population at my mother’s place of work. These skilled nursing facilities assist patients in achieving the best possible health outcomes. I was very disturbed by the images I would see repeatedly, while also maintaining strict HIPPA guidelines. The images were of adult feet in a horrific state of gangrene, where blood supply and hence the nutrients to the part of the skin and underlying tissues is cut off. The patients often always ended up with amputation of some or all of their toes. These patients are homeless and without proper shelter, clothing, food supply, and footwear. Many come to the skilled nursing facilities from Acute Hospitals without clothes and a safe place to go.
This brought back memories of my early days on the ski slopes. I have resided in the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains in a beautiful town called Reno since 2014. The stunning star show at night, hiking trails, mountain lakes, and the breathtaking backdrop of lush green mountains make Reno one of the most beautiful places to live. On average it receives 22 inches of snow per year. The snow capped mountain slopes make it ideal for skiing. I remember getting the taste of the powdery white snow when I was 10 years old. My feet were fitted with the best woolen socks, toe warmers and ski boots. But some days my feet couldn’t tolerate the freezing temperatures and I had to stop skiing with my team and return to the lodge with uncontrollable tears streaming down my cheeks. My toes felt like they were burning and hundreds of little needles were pricking my skin.
If we could come this close to getting a frostbite, the patients without a roof over their heads and without proper footwear stand little chance of avoiding frostbites. I have made it my mission to do something about it. I have spearheaded a project called “ The Soul Shoe Project”, whose goal is to raise awareness about and increase practices to prevent frostbites that can lead to amputations further deteriorating the quality of living. I am aiming to raise money by selling T-Shirts that I designed. Proceeds of the sales go 100% to purchasing winter boots for the homeless. I also want to bring strong governmental and community awareness and eradicate amputation secondary to frostbites in the homeless population. It is a start and I hope that I can make this a national campaign.
Creating my project website was a huge learning experience for me. This was not the first website I have created. When I was at Berkeley HAAS summer entrepreneur program I had created a website for a company idea called RestaurantOne for my final project (https://restaurantone1.wordpress.com/). However, for the Soul Shoe Project I decided to use a more professional website that had its own unaffiliated domain. To do so I used Namecheap and I was able to learn how to set up the website using plugins such as WordPress. Unfortunately the WordPress plugin is nowhere near as simple as the WordPress website builder and as such I had to watch countless videos learning how to move text around, create headers, alter fonts, create new pages, and customize a menu header. Furthermore when I decided to start selling t-shirts I had to figure out an ecommerce plugin that would fit well with my website. Ultimately I ended up choosing WooCommerce as my way to sell online and Printful as my way to sell custom t-shirts. After connecting the two plugins as well as learning how to set up a storefront, shopping cart page, and checkout page the website’s ecommerce was complete and I was able to successfully sell many t-shirts.
I hope that we can come together as a community and help those in need of winter boots.
Community Homelessness Advisory Board Washoe County Public Comment - Dec 6th, 2021
My Public Comments, “Mr. Darsh Patel provided a handout which was distributed to the Board and placed on the record. He thanked the committee for undertaking tasks to help individuals experiencing homelessness. He was aware of the incidences of frostbite often resulting in amputation amongst the homeless population who did not have proper shelter, clothing, food, and footwear. He was spearheading a project to raise awareness and to purchase winter boots for the homeless. He suggested the community equip law enforcement, emergency rooms, or skilled nursing facilities with a budget to purchase winter boots for the homeless.”
The Community Homelessness Advisory Board convened at 9:00 a.m. in the Washoe County Commission Chambers of the Washoe County Administration Complex, 1001 East Ninth Street, Reno, Nevada. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, County Clerk Jan Galassini called roll and the board continued to the next agenda item, public comment. It was my first time speaking to an advisory board, and in order to attend I had requested time off from my high school. I had my speech prepared and arrived 15 minutes early. I had to complete a slip of paper with my information to be able to make public comments. There were many in the audiences that spoke during the public comment section of the meeting. There was constructive and sometimes animated speech. Some of the main points raised were that the available bed census needs to be more accurate on the website, and a request was made for the Record Street Shelter to be reopened along with the heating center in a garage housing some 300+ beds.
“Ms. Elise Campbell, a social work student at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), expressed concern about the housing crisis in the county and her ability to serve the homeless population with the available resources. She lacked confidence in the county’s ability to utilize funding correctly and equitably.” This happens to be one of my goals to do market design research for policy change in homelessness resource allocation.
Washoe County took over main responsibility for Northern Nevada’s homeless services from the city of Reno, with a $15.6 million yearly budget program geared at assisting the region’s unsheltered residents. One-time costs for setting up the shelter and other services will amount to an estimated $38 million in 2022, with Washoe County taking on roughly 68 percent of the price, Reno covering around 21 percent and Sparks paying for approximately 10 percent. The county will cost-share divided in accordance with tax projection percentages between the three local governments. The county will contribute a little less than 70% of the expenses, Reno will cover roughly 23%, and Sparks will cover around 8%. Annual running costs are expected to be around $15 million.
I want to say thank you to the advisory board members and staff who have dedicated their time to support the efforts of sheltering the homeless population in our community. There is a lot I learned and still need to learn about resource allocation, operational challenges, and community organizers who have dedicated themselves to providing shelter to the unsheltered.
I want to give a special shout out to the advisory board member Ms. Neoma Jardon, who totally surprised me with a $500 check to jump start my project. She represents an area of northwest Reno that includes the Old Northwest, University of Nevada, Somersett, and Verdi neighborhoods as well as parts of downtown Reno. I am also very grateful that my friends and family have been supporting my efforts by purchasing the t-shirts from my website.
I look forward to helping those in need!
My First Trip to Find an Unsheltered Citizen to Help - Dec 13th, 2021
Everything in my winter boot project has started to progress in the right direction very quickly. I had stumbled upon the grave problem of frostbite amongst the unsheltered, created my website in late November, spoke at the community homelessness advisory board meeting, raised funds, and actually set out to help someone. My plan looked promising on paper, my confidence high after speaking at the advisory board meeting, and the desired result of giving winter boot in sight with enough funds to execute it. On a rainy and cold evening in Reno, I set out to go to the homeless encampment near rail tracks on the east side of the UNR campus. As I was driving there I felt the anxiety and nervousness rising. I wondered how would I ask them and how I get their attention when they were inside their tents. Will they be offended if I offer them boots? How do I start my conversation? When we pulled up to the rail tracks all the tents were gone, as the city of Reno had cleared the encampment site. At first I had a sigh of relief as I didn’t have to walk along the train tracks to go speak to them, but then I knew that I couldn’t give up. I don’t have a driver’s license and so my mother had to drive me all over town. She explained to me that she came to this country 20 years ago with nothing and paying next month’s rent very often weighed heavily on her mind. None of us are immune to life’s challenges and helping others is our saving grace.
We drove along the I-80 east highway and saw a tent with a wheelchair, but it was too dangerous for me to trek there. We exited south on McCarran Blvd and headed east on 4th street. A mile down before keystone avenue along the train tracks I saw a lone tent covered with a brown tarp ruffling furiously in the strong Reno wind. We pulled over on the side of the road with hazard blinkers and I approached the tent on foot. I called out for the person inside the tent. Bill unzipped the tent door and I explained to him what I was doing. His deep blue eyes sparkled and between puffs of cigarette he told me he would love winter boots in size 12 and some thermal undergarments. I returned with the items in half an hour and handed Bill the bags. He smiled and wished us Merry Christmas. A sense of happiness flooded my heart. According to the positive psychology journal, acts of generosity activate your brain’s pleasure circuits, which release “feel-good” chemicals like endorphins, which make you feel good, and oxytocin, which promotes calmness and inner peace. All the stress and anxiety that was built up inside of me with the social isolation due to the recent pandemic and the uncertainty evaporated.
I know that I can’t stop now, there are others out there that are in danger of developing frost bites.
“It is not happiness that brings us gratitude. It is gratitude that brings us happiness.” Unknown
Bruce and Rocket Bob - Dec 16th, 2021
On one of our drives to the shelter, 1775 E 4th St, we saw Bruce, who was around 40 years old, with the grocery cart stacked up really high. He was sitting hunched up next to his cart on the sidewalk eating something, the food was grasped loosely in both of his curled up fists. You could tell he was wearing many layers of clothing, but they were dark and dirty brown covered in grime. As I approached him he gave me an anxious look. I told him if he would like a pair of winter boots as it is going to get even colder outside. He eagerly told me his shoe size was 8.5 and he would like a pair of winter boots very much. “Don’t leave, I will be back with your boots. It will take me 45 minutes to return”, I told him. We left to buy him new winter boots.
On my drive many thoughts crossed my mind. Why did he end up here? What was his childhood like? What does he need to get back on his feet? Do these people in the shelter and out on the sidewalks have a substance abuse problem or mental health issues that keeps him from staying employed?
When we returned with a pair of woolen socks and new winter boots I didn’t see him at the spot we left him. I walked up to the staff at the entrance of the shelter and asked them if they saw a man with a shopping cart stacked high. They said they didn’t see anyone. We walked around and asked a few people that were waiting outside. No one had seen him. It was not getting very dark and so we decided to drive on the west side along the road and find him. We spent almost 45 minutes driving up and down the street but we didn’t Bruce. Feeling dejected, we went home. I went back there two more times on different days but never saw Bruce again, however, I will try and keep looking for him. On one of our trips trying to locate Bruce I ran into a man named “Rocket Bob”, he was walking on the sidewalk with nothing on his feet but a pair of flip flops. He was an older gentleman with a shopping cart full of broken toys. He said is a veteran who had undergone many heart operations and if it wasn’t for a social worker he would be homeless. I offered to buy him winter boots but he declined and said he is used to the cold and warms himself with a heavy woolen hat. He did tell me that he misses his family close to Christmas time. He said he was once recruited to dress up as Santa for the Sears company photo op. I didn’t ask him any questions about his past as I didn’t want to intrude.
This got me thinking about how despite millions of dollars funding we are unable to help the homeless get situated. The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 defines people as homeless when they lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence or when their primary residence is a temporary place for people about to be institutionalized, any place not meant for regular sleeping accommodation by humans, or a supervised temporary shelter. The greatest weakness of the McKinney-Vento Act is its focus on emergency measures as it responds to the symptoms of homelessness and not its causes. The questions and answers are not easy to fix. The extent of someone’s past trouble is impossible to find out. Social workers can act as an important tool to connect citizens facing homelessness to governmental programs. Social workers can help residents get government benefits such as Social Security, Disability, Medicaid and Food Stamps. Social workers can also help residents find other needed services and assist in securing permanent housing. The Reno police department and local hospitals should set aside funding to employ social workers to assist the homeless at the time they really need these services.
Helping a Man on the Side of the Street - Dec 24th, 2021
It was Christmas Eve, 2021 in Reno. The weather forecast predicted a powerful winter storm and dangerous driving conditions starting Friday, Dec 26th. We ran our errands and did some grocery shopping. As we were driving back home from Walmart in South Reno, I saw Tony holding a cardboard sign on the sidewalk at the traffic light that read “Please Help Rent + Food Bless U”. He was wearing socks for gloves, old winter clothes and a pair of old sneakers that would barely keep his feet warm. I thought of the coming storm and decided I had to stop by and help him. It was about 4:00 pm and soon it would get dark. After parking our car I walked up to him and introduced myself and asked him if I could buy him a pair of winter boots. He was happy that I stopped to help him. I was worried that when I returned he would be gone, so I stressed that he should wait for me. Tony told me that he was at this street side only on certain days of the week. When I returned with his winter boots I was relieved to see him waiting for me where I had left him. He was so happy to see the new pair of boots and socks I took out of the bag to give him.
Tony started to tell me that a few years back he was in a hit and run accident and ended up in rehabilitation for a long time. He has a lot of pain in his hips, lost his job, and has no income to pay the rent. He said he is trying to get his paperwork done with the help of a lawyer but that is going nowhere. He stated that despite the police report of a hit and run he is unable to get disability. Tony also told me that he does not like to go to the shelter because he has to rest and take a nap in the afternoon which is not allowed in the shelter. He said “you have to be upright the entire time except at night when you go to sleep.” I couldn’t help but think if only Tony had access to a social worker who could help him through this process.
Helping Brian After a Massive Winter Storm - Jan 2nd, 2022
Happy New Year! Hoping 2022 is a healthy and safe one!
“December 28, 2021. Tonight, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak declared he intends to issue a state of emergency related to the snow and storm conditions.” The Reno, Tahoe and Carson area was engulfed in high winds and 2-4 feet of snow with as high as 10 feet in the mountains. Leaving home to help the unsheltered was not an option as my subdivision roads were not plowed and Mt Rose Highway was an ice rink. State Route 431, commonly known as the Mount Rose Highway, is a 24.413-mile-long highway in Washoe County, Nevada, that connects Incline Village at Lake Tahoe with Reno. This highway, a Nevada Scenic Byway, takes its name from Mount Rose, which lies just off the highway and was constructed in 1976.
I was finally able to venture out safely on Jan 2nd and that is when I met up with Brian on my usual drive by Volunteers of America, 1775 E 4th St, Reno, NV 89502. He was a good looking but was a frail 65 years old gentleman slowly pushing his medical four wheel walker. I approached him because he was wearing sneakers that didn’t look like they could withstand the freezing temperatures of the season. I respectfully asked him if he would like for me to buy him winter boots. He looked surprised and nodded, “Yes, I would like winter boots as these are the only sneakers I have. When the water gets into them it takes days for it to dry.” I told him that if he could kindly wait for me for 45 minutes then I could back with the boots. He was size 10.5 about the average size of winter boots I had been buying.
He used to work up until 3 years back before he suffered a heart attack and was in rehab for months. He is able to walk but stated that he gets extremely short of breath. In my non-medical and naive judgement, Brian was not on any mind altering drugs nor was he intoxicated, he was just weak due to his medical condition. He spoke in a low measured tone. He said he missed working and now has to get with the $850 of social security that he gets, which is not enough to pay for rent. His eyes lit up and a big smile brightened his face when he told me that he used to lay down floors and that he has worked in many residential homes and casinos around town.
I returned after 45 minutes and found him waiting in a gas station’s parking lot. I waited in the car as I saw 3-4 other people in conversation with him. I only had one pair of boots and figured it would be wise to wait. When I handed Brian his boots he was so thankful and said that he missed his family. I don’t ask too many questions, as I let them tell me their story. I feel better now that Brian will not have to endure cold and wet feet.
Helping a Skilled Nursing Facility Admit - Jan 12th, 2022
I got in touch with a social worker named Eric at a skilled nursing facility. He was kind enough to grant me a quick conversation. Eric told me that he keeps very busy with about 30 patients. They have on average three admissions and three discharges routinely. His job is to maintain and utilize a listing of current community resources that are useful to residents and their families/significant others, understand and meet all government requirements for social service documentation, work with the interdisciplinary team and administration to promote and protect resident rights and the psychological well being of each resident, and prevent and address resident abuse as mandated by law and professional licensure. In addition Eric has to work really hard on safe discharges for the patients that include setting up home health and, if they are on oxygen, any equipment they would need after discharges.
Eric told me about Joe, one of the admits, and how he could really use some winter boots. I was not able to visit or talk to them due to HIPPA rules, but Eric was able to provide me with Joe’s background. Joe had dropped out of high school and had children at a very young age. His first child was born when he was 18 years old. Joe, in his 50s, stated that he wants to go back to school and get back into society. Currently Joe has no steady housing. Fortunately we were able to give Joe a pair of nice winter boots and a t-shirt to which he was very grateful.
(Joe is a fictitious patient’s name to protect his privacy. Joe did agree to be photographed and his photo be published on my website)
Helping Two Skilled Nursing Facility Admits - Feb 23rd, 2022
I was alerted through my social worker contact that there were currently two homeless patients who were without proper footwear at a skilled nursing facility. Due to COVID protocols I was not able to meet them in person, but I learned about their diverse backgrounds.
Linda was in her 50s and lived in a motel with her ex-boyfriend. They were both unemployed and lived off of social security. Linda, a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, lost all her possessions and identification. Currently, Linda’s ex-boyfriend is serving a prison sentence. Linda spent two weeks in the hospital and was then transferred to a skilled facility for physical rehab; she was very weak and unable to walk. Linda has anxiety issues, is overweight, and has previously engaged with illegal drugs and alcohol. The next week when I delivered the shoes I was informed that Linda was discharged to a shelter and did not complete her two weeks of rehab at the facility, as such I was unfortunately not able to give her winter boots.
Lenny is a very pleasant 50+ year old male. He moved to San Francisco with his family from Hong Kong about 20 years ago. He worked in Chinatown until a few years back when he decided to move to Reno to work in a warehouse. Lenny sustained an injury when he tripped on some equipment in the warehouse, but he neglected the injury. Now he has a non healing injury on his ankle, no money to pay for the medication, and is homeless with no job. Lenny was unaware of the medicaid programs that could help him with the medications and wound clinics. Lenny said he was with a social worker earlier at the shelter, but he was not sure if he could get his help again. Lenny is also not in contact with his family. However, upon receiving winter boots Lenny became very happy; these boots will not only provide him with proper footwear, but will also protect his wound on his ankle.
Lenny is one of our citizens who fell through the cracks. He is now suffering from chronic disease, improper nutrition for wound healing, lack of finances for medications, no income from stable employment to afford housing, and lack of support to take advantage of social programs. The more homeless citizens I encounter the more I feel that they need a good support system from social workers. Unfortunately, the current social work staffing faces scarcity and their workload is heavy. Employing more social workers will definitely help our citizens from many hardships they encounter, such as being without a steady place of employment and without a stable place to live.
(Lenny and Linda are fictitious patient’s names to protect their privacy. Lenny did agree to be photographed and his photo be published on my website)
Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research - May 21st, 2022
I was very fortunate to attend the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) forum on Homelessness in California: Causes and policy considerations. SIEPR is a beautiful building on the Stanford Campus, with well-maintained grounds and lush vines giving shade for an afternoon of sun and fresh air.
The speaker lineup was very impressive and informative to listen to. To name a few speakers whom I had the pleasure of listening to:
Chris Ko: VP of impact and Strategy, United Way of Greater Los Angeles
Gary Painter: Professor of Sol Price School of Public Policy, USC
Regina Celestin Williams: Executive Director, SV@Home
Enrico Moretti: The R. Peevey and Donald Vial Professor of Economics, UC Berkeley
Meea Kang: Senior Vice President of Development, Related California
Jennifer Hernandez: Land Use & Environment Lawyer, Holland and Knight
Derrell Steinberg: Mayor of Sacramento
Pastor Paul Bains: President & Co-Founder, WeHOPE/ Homeless and Mobile Services
Brian Greenberg: Vice President, LifeMoves Homeless Shelters
Rosanne Haggerty: Found & CEO of Community Solutions
Lisa Dailey: Executive Director, Treatment and Advocacy Center
Anna Lembke: Professor of Psychiatry, Stanford University: Chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine and Dual Diagnosis Clinic
Michael Shellenberger: Best selling Author of “Apocalypse Never” and “San Fransico- Why progressive ruin cities”
The following is a summary of the conference:
1 in 5 families eligible for Cal work take advantage of this program for a lack of knowledge and social workers that could guide them through it. “If a family has little or no cash and needs housing, food, utilities, clothing, or medical care, they may be eligible to receive immediate short-term help. Families that apply and qualify for ongoing assistance receive money each month to help pay for housing, food, and other necessary expenses.”
The rents of affordable housing are steadily increasing.
There is an issue of supply of affordable housing due to building costs, land scarcity, and costs going up. Ms. Jennifer Hernandez and Ms. Meea Kang discussed at length with many examples how CEQA is misguided and needs to be revised. According to the Governor’s office of planning and research, CA, “CEQA requires public agencies to ‘look before they leap’ and consider the environmental consequences of their discretionary actions. CEQA is intended to inform government decision-makers and the public about the potential environmental effects of proposed activities and to prevent significant avoidable environmental damage.” The panel argued that this has been detrimental to building affordable housing, injecting governmental bureaucracy, and has also added to the cost of building.
Ms. Rosanne Haggerty: Found & CEO of Community Solutions argued that we need to take a systems approach to tackle the homelessness and housing crisis. She started a “systems approach” by creating the Built for Zero initiative that provides “… data-driven thinking and a system-wide approach can build a future where homelessness is rare overall and brief when it occurs.” It is made up of more than 100 towns and counties that have committed to addressing homelessness one population at a time. Washoe County is one of them. It runs a dashboard of Actively homeless, beds available, shelter capacity, etc. This data is accountable and is used for problem-solving strategies. The Built for Zero approach is a by-name list of every person experiencing homelessness in different categories — chronically homeless, veterans, youth, families, and so on. According to Jared Brey, “Bakersfield, California, the seat of Kern County, is a city of some 350,000 people. The collaborative first established a by-name list of chronically homeless people, those who have experienced homelessness repeatedly or for more than a year while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability, in 2017. Between that time and the beginning of 2020, it reduced the number of chronically homeless people from 72 to 2, achieving ‘functional zero’ for chronic homelessness, according to the definition provided by Community Solutions. This group coordinates the Built for Zero campaign. But thanks to an established collaboration between service providers and housing providers in the area, and a well-timed investment from California’s Project Homekey, the community was able to reduce the number again. In January of 2021, Bakersfield announced that it was the first city in California to end chronic homelessness.”
Ms. Anna Lembke the famous Author of the book “Dopamine Nation”, talked about drug addiction and substance abuse amongst the homeless population. According to her when addiction occurs people lose their ability to choose between staying sober and getting impaired. She proposed more treatment facilities and lower barriers to treatments. As a result of deinstitutionalization, the number of mentally ill patients in psychiatric hospitals dropped to 37,209 in 2016 from 558,239 in 1955. However, the vision of providing care in the community did not work as planned. According to her Cook County Jail in Chicago and L.A. County jail are one of the biggest mental health care providers. Short of psychiatric inpatient beds the Emergency room doctors have to release the mentally ill patients in a few days to the community with referral to private or country agencies. And this effort and time to get treatment is a barrier to many. The policy recommendation for mental health treatment and Drug Addiction treatments were proposed. Some of them are, increase psychiatric beds in acute and sub-acute hospitals, and lower the barriers by shortening the wait time to receive outpatient treatments.
The main takeaway is that mental health, affordable housing, and connecting resources to those who need them are the most important aspects of keeping our citizens off the streets.
Distributing Warm Woolen Socks - November 11th, 2022
Today I woke up to a 2-hour school delay, looking outside it was clear why. The National Weather Service in Reno had issued a winter storm watch from Sunday Nov 10th to Wednesday Nov 13th as feet of snow is expected in the Sierra Mountains. Snowfall coupled with howling winds makes it very difficult and impossible to travel around the Sierra and Tahoe Basin during winter. The hazardous travel conditions impact commute times greatly for several days. While the snow capped mountains and frozen lake icescape is beautiful, the winter is a harsh time.
My fundraising has not yet begun, but I decided that today was a good day to distribute warm woolen socks. Since your feet can still sweat when it is cold outside, I decided to hand out wool and eco-fiber socks that are incredibly sweat-wicking, meaning they help absorb sweat and keep your toes from freezing. Exposure to extreme cold can cause the water in the tissue under the skin to freeze and die. Under extreme cold, the body will divert the blood to vital internal organs and reduce the warm blood flow to the extremities. The blend of Marino wool and synthetic fiber keeps your feet and skin dry, and it also retains heat even when wet.
I had noticed some tents by the highway and I was thinking about how they would have survived the 45 miles an hour gusty winds. Sure enough, when I got there in the afternoon after school, I saw the unsheltered citizens with their tents blown off. They were very grateful for the socks and I promised them that I would return with winter boots.