John A. Burns School of Medicine student Jacques Ambrose helped organize a symposium in April on one of Hawai`iʻs most complex problems: homelessness.
“The issue of homelessness is so overwhelming that we, unfortunately, often become paralyzed, either with helplessness or fear of the unknown,” said Ambrose, a third year medical student and co-President of the Partnership for Social Justice (PSJ). “Ultimately, this symposium was meant to empower interested individuals to make a change, and if we can help even just one person, all of this would be well worth it. “
The PSJ Symposium on “Homelessness in Hawai`i” examined the multifaceted aspects of homelessness. As Diana W., a student from The Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawai`i said, “We see homeless people all the time, but we never really stopped to think what happened to them and how we can help.”
The symposium was intended to establish a foundational understanding about homelessness in our community through the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) thematic approach which is used in MD student learning at JABSOM. Participants were encouraged to discuss some key questions: What are the current problems? What are the solutions? What are the barriers to accomplishing these solutions? And ultimately, what can the individual do to be involved?
The personal anecdotes of two individuals, in particular, Dr. Jill Omori and Mr. Utu Langhi, detailed the prevalence of homelessness in Hawai`i, and the struggles and successes in coordinating resources of their care. Dr. Omori is a JABSOM Associate Professor and the founder of the Hawai`i Homeless Outreach and Medical Education Program (H.O.M.E.). Mr. Langhi has worked on the front lines at Hawai`iʻs homeless shelters. Dr. Chad Koyanagi, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at JABSOM, focused on the need to recognize the behavioral health needs of some of homeless population, without attaching a negative stigma to those mental health illnesses.
Dr. Alan Hixon, Chair of Family Medicine and Community Health at JABSOM, concluded the symposium with what Ambrose described as “a galvanizing lecture” on how to systematically approach health policy advocacy as an individual.
Between each lecture, the participants were engaged in facilitated discussions about their potential impact as individuals. “At the end of the day, we’re all human beings,” Mr. Langhi poignantly stressed.
Ambrose reports the event was extremely well received; he said “many participants even commented that they ʻusually pay for these kinds of symposia.ʻ”
The Partnership for Social Justice, which is an interdisciplinary coalition among professional and graduate students, annually hosts a symposium on a social justice topic. The 2013 symposium was funded through the McGuire Fund. Ambrose said the efforts of first-year medical students January Andaya and Valynn Pham and all of the PSJ members were instrumental in making the symposium a success.
Our main photograph shows Dr. Koyanagi presenting a lecture on mental health in the homeless population.