Until recently, 22-year-old Fernando was in survival mode every day. Homeless for three years, he lived much of that time in a car. “At least I had a roof over my head,” he said. But there was one eight-month stretch when he slept outside in sleeping bag. “Homelessness is a terrible situation, especially this time of year,” he said.
Fernando, who asked that his last name not be used, was one of the speakers at a press conference on January 31 at Framingham State University, where Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito highlighted a comprehensive plan to end youth homelessness in the state. They announced $3.3 million in funding from the state’s FY20 budget to 10 community partners. Through one of those partners —the City of Springfield—Gándara Center is receiving more than $245,000 for services to homeless youth, including an overnight shelter for young adults that it plans to open in Springfield in the near future. The shelter, at a site to be determined, will have six to eight beds for youth aged 18 to 24.
The shelter is one of several Gándara Center efforts to address youth homelessness, which is on the rise in the United States. In FY18, Gándara placed 40 homeless young adults in housing. Gándara Center’s SHINE Young Adult Housing Program provides rapid re-housing and outreach services for up to 22 homeless, unaccompanied young adults. Research has shown that those who receive rapid re-housing, which provides short-term rental assistance and intensive case management services, are homeless for shorter periods than those assisted with shelter or transitional housing.
“Also, our Springfield Family Resource Center provides supportive services for families with multiple issues,” said Sharon Hall-Smith, director of prevention and community services at Gándara Center. “This, in turn, builds resilience in youth that makes them less susceptible to homelessness in the future.”
Gándara’s Impact Center in Springfield serves youth aged 16 to 21 who are, or at risk of, becoming homeless and may have mental health and/or substance use concerns. They are connected to resources for jobs, housing, education, recovery navigation, and more. Staff at SHINE coordinate closely with Impact Center staff, referring youth in SHINE housing to services at the Impact Center. SHINE staff also visit the Impact Center on a regular basis to conduct initial assessments with youth who may be homeless. If necessary, they get these youth entered into the city’s homeless database, which is the first step in getting them into programs such as rapid re-housing.
Indeed, much of what Gándara Center does—providing mental health, substance use, and preventive services—results in the strengthening of families, which prevents youth homelessness, since many homeless youth flee dysfunctional families torn apart by mental illness and addiction.
Ending Youth Homelessness Statewide
At the press conference, Baker and Polito also revealed their new housing pilot program to provide dorm rooms to homeless students attending college. Baker said the programs are “a very different kind of approach” in responding to youth homelessness.
“When you’re talking about young people, you have to think much more broadly and much more creatively and much more expansively,” said Baker. “The model that’s been developed in this state-wide effort is very consistent with the circumstances and situations that young people find themselves in.”
Prior to the press conference, Baker and Polito spoke with college students who have experienced homelessness to gain a better perspective of the problem.
“The biggest thing I would say is the amount of resilience these kids have shown on their own, in many cases, is extraordinary,” Baker said. “I just want to say how grateful I am that they can tell these stories and do it in a way that shows no regret, no anger, no hostility, but with the ability to say, ‘Hey, this is what happened, this is how I dealt with it, and now I’m trying to figure out the path forward.’”
Polito said that preventing and ending youth homelessness is a top priority in their administration. “The FY20 budget continues the highest commitment ever to address youth homelessness so that we can continue to intervene and work with local partners and leaders on college campuses across Massachusetts to implement the type of support services needed for young people experiencing crises,” she said.
It is estimated that at least 1,800 young adults in Massachusetts experience homelessness every year, but Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders feels that the number of homeless youth is underreported. She said when she was in college she listed herself as an “emancipated minor” but likely wouldn’t have reported herself as homeless. She added that there will be more comprehensive efforts in the state to survey homeless youth in the future.
“I learned the art of couch-surfing, borrowing people’s cars to stay in, and working in food services so I’d always have something to eat,” said Sudders.
In an interview, Fernando recalled his day-to-day focus of getting food, finding a place to sleep, and finding a way to bathe and wash his clothes. “There was also the constant threat of being picked up on vagrancy charges by the police,” he said. Fernando’s homelessness ended in mid-January when he got an apartment with the help of Framingham’s Tempo Young Adult Resource Center. He also has steady income, having recently gotten a job at a VERC convenience store in Framingham.
Fernando praised the Baker Administration’s efforts to end youth homelessness by connecting teens and young adults with education, employment and housing support and services in their communities. “This is like a kick-start to help young people get back on their feet,” he said.
Exercise is a great way for people to take mental health improvement into their own hands. Don’t get us wrong: working out is not a cure-all for mental illness and is not a definitive treatment option. But it allows people who suffer from mental health disorders to be proactive, to take control of a potentially dangerous situation. Perhaps most importantly, it sets into motion chemicals in the brain that induce feelings of euphoria which combat feelings of despair.
The notion that exercise is a constructive way to counterbalance feelings of, for example, depression or anxiety is rooted in evidence-based science. Studies have been published that show a relationship between increased physical activity and low rates of major depressive disorder.
One such recent study was co-authored by Karmel W. Choi, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jordan Smoller, MD, ScD, director of the Mass. General Hospital Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit and a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“On average, doing more physical activity appears to protect against developing depression,” Dr. Choi said in a statement. “Any activity appears to be better than none; our rough calculations suggest that replacing sitting with 15 minutes of a heart-pumping activity like running, or with an hour of moderately vigorous activity, is enough to produce the average increase in accelerometer data that was linked to a lower depression risk.”
According to Yale scientist Adam Mourad Chekroud, PhD, exercise is a key opportunity for individuals to develop protective factors against depression, maybe even more so than prescription medications. In fact, he says “Antidepressants are not universally effective, and many patients undergo a trial-and-error process to find the right regimen. Psychological therapies are about equally effective and can be expensive and difficult to access.”
A big part of this is the so-called runner’s high. This sensation is caused by a rush of pleasure-causing endorphins in the brain, in addition to endocannabinoids, a chemical that acts like naturally synthesized THC (the main chemical component in marijuana).
Cardio workouts can also generate new brain cells and improve cognitive performance, which has been linked to low rates of Alzheimer’s. It also has the added benefit of providing an outlet for stress, a time for self-reflection, and, especially on sunny days, an opportunity for your body to produce Vitamin D.
For these reasons and more, Gándara has hosted a 5K road race in Northampton for the past four years. This year, on August 25, will be our 5th annual Frozen Yogurt 5K.
We run to not only give participants the chance to experience all the health benefits that accompany running, but also to raise awareness around mental illness, substance use disorders, their stigmas, and the various services and treatments available to those in need.
Register today! Kids 12 and under run for free, and all runners—and walkers—get a free GoBerry Frozen Yogurt. Sign up by August 14 and you’ll be receive a free t-shirt. Registration on race day will be available beginning at 8:00 a.m. Credit and debit cards will be accepted. The staging area is on the Courthouse Lawn across from the Calvin Theater. For GPS purposes please use 19 King Street Northampton, MA.
Leashed pets are also welcome to run for free.
Our 5K is officially timed by RaceWire. Medals will be awarded to the top three finishers in each of the following categories: Male, Female, 12 and under and 50 and over.
For any questions regarding the event—or for those interested in having their business sponsor this year’s race—please contact Lisa Brecher at 413-296-5256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Thursday, New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon announced on Twitter that he is stepping away from the game to focus on his mental health. According to a report, Gordon also violated the terms of the NFL’s substance use policy. His decision brings up an important conversation about co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
We applaud Gordon’s decision and support him as he seeks long-lasting recovery. Earlier this year, Gordon missed training camp while he sought counseling for anxiety. It’s quite common for someone with mental health issues to also have substance use issues. Gordon has been suspended in the past for repeated violation of the league’s substance use policy.
#Patriots WR Josh Gordon is facing another indefinite suspension for violating terms of his reinstatement under the substance abuse policy, per source. He announced today he’s stepping away to address his mental health.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 20, 2018
Co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders affect approximately 8 million people in the United States. They’re especially dangerous because one disorder can mask the symptoms of the other, and too often people will seek treatment for only one of them. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “the consequences of undiagnosed, untreated, or undertreated co-occurring disorders can lead to a higher likelihood of experiencing homelessness, incarceration, medical illnesses, suicide, or even early death.”
The following are signs and symptoms to look out for, but these can vary from person to person:
Treatment options will also vary from person to person, but there are ways to treat both a mental health issue and substance use issue.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests the following services, as per consultation with a therapist, counselor, or doctor:
We at the Gándara Center understand the immediate need for treating co-occurring disorders. We’re currently hiring to staff a 16-bed enhanced residential rehabilitation services program for women with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
Statement from the New England Patriots on Josh Gordon: pic.twitter.com/tXmXrXVrJL
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 20, 2018
The program, based in Ludlow, will take a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment, employing evidence-based and peer support methods including community, clinical, psychiatric, and medication-assisted treatment services. Wellness resources and activities will help patients build protective measures against co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders, and expose them to social skill-building opportunities as a pathway to achieving long-term recovery. These may include art, music, and fitness events; community fellowships; and mental health support groups.
We identified 14 Chestnut Place, the former location of the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts, as the site for the program. The opening date has yet to be determined.
Check out Gándara Center’s December Newsletter online. You can read about our successful #ValleyGivingTuesday efforts; end-of-year giving opportunities to our Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship; and our Executive Director Henry East-Trou’s retirement in May of 2019. Pictured above are some of our Aventura! campers at Camp STAR Angelina in Springfield’s Forest Park.
Also in the newsletter: photos from our Blood Drive/Job Fair on December 11; the Spanish version of the Gándara Center website; and treatments for seasonal affective disorder.
In addition, our agency sponsored Janiah Rivera in the Miss Bella Hispana Pageant at the MassMutual Center on December 1—and she was crowned Junior Bella Hispana! View photos and video of her crowning.
Read the newsletter at http://mailchi.mp/gandaracenter/december-newsletter-2018.
We want to give our sincerest THANK YOU to everyone who helped support us on #ValleyGivingTuesday! Thanks to your generosity, we were able to raise an additional $895 for our Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship, which sends Springfield youths from low-income families to summer camp for free.
Now, in this season of giving, there is still an opportunity to make an impact on the lives who need it the most. Help us give these kids an experience they’ll never forget: a session of SUMMER CAMP, where children and teenagers build their self-confidence as they try new activities and make new friends. Where kids can be kids.
Parents who lack child care find it difficult to find affordable, safe opportunities for kids when school isn’t in session. Summer camp is the perfect environment for these youngsters, and it provides parents and caregivers with peace of mind that their child is being socially, emotionally, and physically engaged in a safe setting.
Last year we had 40 scholarship recipients. We want to send even more children to camp this summer!
If you missed out on #ValleyGivingTuesday and haven’t made your end-of-year gift, we hope you will seize this amazing opportunity to give the gift of fun and outdoors for kids who deserve it. Make a tax-deductible donation today!
Katherine and Conor Bevan (top left), had plenty of motivation to give donate blood at our Blood Drive/Job Fair we held on December 11 in conjunction with the American Red Cross: 20 months ago she needed an emergency blood transfusion while giving birth. “I lost 90 percent of my blood,” she said. “I would have died if there wasn’t enough blood available. This is our way of giving back.”
Abiezer Colon (top right), a Family Partner at Gándara Center, said he donated blood because “it’s the right thing to do. It feels good to help others.”
The Blood Drive was held in response to a critical blood shortage in the U.S. since this past summer because of a rise in demand. Participants were also able to learn about career opportunities at our agency during our Job Fair.
The event included a great showing by Gándara Center employees. Thanks to everyone who headed over to our offices at 80 Commercial Street in Holyoke for this important initiative. We met our goal and collected 19 pints of blood!
People and media will tell you the holiday season is supposed to be a time for celebrating and good cheer. But it doesn’t always feel that way. The holidays can be stressful and put a strain on your physical and emotional wellbeing. For many, this is made worse by seasonal affective disorder—sometimes referred to as seasonal depression. Because it can be as distressing as other disorders, and shouldn’t be characterized as just winter blues, we put together this guide to answer some of your most important questions: what is seasonal affective disorder? Do I suffer from seasonal affective disorder? What causes seasonal affective disorder?
SAD is a form of depression, so it doesn’t have its own standalone entry in the DSM-5. That doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly, though. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in order to be diagnosed with SAD a person must meet the full criteria for major depression during specific seasons for at least two years. It’s caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain due to shorter days and less sunlight, which is why SAD tends to be seen more in the wintertime. This causes a person’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, to shift out of sync.
Depression can manifest itself in many ways. Symptoms of major depression can include the following:
Because SAD symptoms can vary as the seasons change, the following symptoms can include the following for winter and summer:
There are four primary ways of treating SAD: light therapy, Vitamin D, medication, and psychotherapy. Medication dosages and psychotherapy sessions should be discussed with your primary care physician, therapist, or clinician.
Light therapy is exactly as it sounds. According to Harvard Health Publishing, light therapy “entails sitting close to a special ‘light box’ for 30 minutes a day, usually as soon after waking up as possible. These boxes provide 10,000 lux… That’s about 100 times brighter than usual indoor lighting; a bright sunny day is 50,000 lux or more. You need to have your eyes open, but don’t look at the light.”
Light therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. The amount of light people need varies on an individual basis. Some people are more sensitive to light than others.
Vitamin D therapy works on the same principle as light therapy; people who suffer from SAD tend to have lower levels of Vitamin D, and so a method of treatment is to provide more Vitamin D. Not surprisingly either, a good source of Vitamin D is sunlight intake.
From a scientific perspective, the jury’s still out on Vitamin D therapy. Studies have shown mixed results and correlations, though there is no definitive evidence that a Vitamin D supplement can effectively treat SAD.
Studies show the Latinx and African-American communities are losing trust in law enforcement. This is because of a number of different reasons, such as societal stigmatization and prejudicial rhetoric against minorities. While in some cases it’s understandable why this erosion of trust is taking place, it makes things difficult for combatting the opioid crisis. Mutual trust between police and the community at large is necessary for harm reduction services to act as they should. This is where the Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law comes into play.
The Good Samaritan Law is the common name for a state law that protects substance users experiencing overdose symptoms from being arrested. It’s meant to encourage people to seek medical attention if they overdose by calling 9-1-1, protecting them from prosecution for illegal acts such as possession of an illicit substance.
The rule also extends to people with the overdose victim; so if they witness an overdose, they, too, will not be arrested.
The point of the law is not to arrest substance users, but instead to urge them to seek sustainable, long-lasting treatment and recovery services. Responders on the scene may administer the overdose-reversal drug naloxone (aka Narcan), and provide users with dosages to carry on themselves if medical assistance is unavailable.
Now, the law can also be a bit tricky to understand. It doesn’t exactly guarantee full immunity from prosecution. For example, if someone at the scene calls the police under the Good Samaritan Law and the caller has prior warrants or is intending to distribute substances, the protection goes away.
Here’s a breakdown:
What the Good Samaritan Law does:
What the Good Samaritan Law does not do:
The Gándara Center hosted two Spanish-speaking Narcan training events in November. Here we provided attendees with step-by-step instructions on how to act if they encounter an overdose. These included techniques for giving rescue breathing to overdose victims and best practices for administering Narcan. We believe everyone—Everyone!—should possess, know how to use, and be prepared to use Narcan. It could save a life.
We also enlisted the help of officers from the Springfield and Holyoke police departments to help residents restore trust with law enforcement. The officers explained the Good Samaritan Law from their perspective. They reminded everyone that their primary job is to maintain a safe community and it’s not their intention to simply go around locking people up on drug charges; rather, they want to help people recovery from their substance use and/or mental health disorders.
New data has been released that show overall opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts are on the decline. Between Q2 and Q3 of this year, 49 fewer people suffered fatal overdoses. If this trend continues through 2018, Massachusetts will see two consecutive years of overdose death decreases after six consecutive years of increases from 2010–2016. This is good news. But there’s also bad news. Overdose deaths among black males are on the rise, as are deaths in certain counties, and fentanyl use.
The Department of Public Health (DPH) uses three race and ethnicity identifiers to break down statewide demographic information: white, non-Hispanic; black, non-Hispanic; and Hispanic. Each group has suffered traumatically from the opioid crisis in their own way.
For example, more than three quarters of the state’s population identifies as white and statistically more whites have died over overdose than black, non-Hispanics and Hispanics. Hispanics saw the most dramatic increase in overdose deaths from 2014–2016, when the number of fatal overdoses nearly doubled. From 2016–2017, both groups saw a decline.
Overdose deaths in the black, non-Hispanic community have steadily increased since 2014. But from 2016–2017, overdose deaths declined among black women—they increased among black men by more than 10 per 100,000.
“There is an increase in opioid-related overdose deaths among black males and we are focusing our efforts on tailoring our services to the needs of these communities,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. “We are also targeting public awareness campaigns to black communities in the Commonwealth, including a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of carrying naloxone, the opioid reversal medication.”
The African-American community faces a number of societal challenges that play into this increase, especially for men. These include stigmatization and bias when treating African-Americans, which can lead to breakdown of trust between the substance user and the medical professional; the lack of access to information and treatment services for African-Americans; and an over-reliance on faith as a spiritual form of treatment.
For overdose victims who received a toxicology screen, presence of the synthetic opioid fentanyl was found in 90% of cases. The DPH suspects that the majority of fentanyl found in Massachusetts is illicitly produced, meaning most of it does not come from pharmaceutical prescriptions and is either created illegally or smuggled into the state.
“The opioid epidemic, fueled by an all-time high level of fentanyl, remains a tragic public health crisis responsible for taking too many lives in Massachusetts,” said Governor Charlie Baker.
Fentanyl is estimated to be 25–50 times stronger than heroin and 50–100 times stronger than morphine. About 2–3 milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal. That’s roughly the size of 5–7 grains of salt.
Of the 14 counties in Massachusetts, 5 saw increases in overdose deaths from 2016–2017: Essex, Nantucket, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Worcester counties. Overdose deaths are up in Boston and Worcester, the two most populated cities in New England. In Boston, though, fewer residents died over overdose while more non-residents died of overdose, indicating people are traveling to urban centers and overdosing there in higher numbers. In Worcester, increases occurred among both residents and non-residents.
In addition, all these counties except Worcester County are contain significant port cities and towns, making it easier to import substances by boat.
The state has undertaken several initiatives to combat the opioid crisis. In addition to targeted public awareness campaigns (as seen above), Massachusetts secured $36 million in new federal funding to expand overdose education and naloxone (aka Narcan) distribution, office-based opioid treatment, access to medication-assisted treatment, and recovery support services.
The Gándara Center is also committed to supporting at-risk populations ravaged by the opioid crisis. We’ve hosted Spanish-speaking Narcan training events with Tapestry Health and will continue to put on training sessions in the future. We analyze data, like those provided by DPH, to determine effective long-lasting solutions for the communities we serve.
In addition, the various addiction recovery centers we operate are designed to serve people in different stages of addiction and recovery. We provide services for women, residential services for young women, short-term residential services for men, long-term residential services for Spanish-speaking men, and more.