Utah’s air: Not good for what ails you

Inversion

Brace yourself — The inversion is coming. This is the text of a bumper sticker.

Story and photos by SARAH SAIDYKHAN

On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers of what is now The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived on the outskirts of the Great Salt Lake Valley looking for a new place to corral their wagons and set up camp. The church’s archives state that as Young gazed over the vast and barren land sprawled out before him, he said, “This is the right place.”

City View

Salt Lake City.

Nowadays we know that what Brigham Young was looking at were massive mountain ranges surrounding a desert-valley landscape. This mountain range design creates a makeshift bowl that protects the valley from strong winds and other harsh elements. Along with adventurous recreation, the mountains assist in creating high- and low-pressure systems that trap toxic particulate matter in the air during winter inversions and smoke-filled haze pollution resulting from possible summertime fires.

Kellie McCleve lives in the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley and is a mom to five kids under the age of 14. From her home, she is able to see the smog pollution that covers the Valley. She said, “Sometimes the sky’s so gross you can’t see anything but like, a yucky, brownish haze. It covers the whole Valley.” McCleve said that when she takes her kids into the city, she has a mask for each of them to wear. “It’s so gross! We shouldn’t be breathing that in. No one should be breathing that in.”

Smog Lake City

Light haze covering the Salt Lake Valley.

But every day, hundreds of thousands of people do breathe it in. McCleve said that when she moved, the inversions were something she could see from a distance. But now she knows her home was never actually immune. “I worry because when we moved out of the city, I really thought we escaped it, we didn’t. We just see it now from a distance. It’s always around us but it’s worse down in the Valley.” McCleve believes that no one person can fix the depleted air quality and for now, she continually looks for ways to lower her carbon footprint saying, “We’re all responsible for the problem and that means, we’re all responsible for cleaning it up. If we don’t, we’re all in trouble.”

Today, Utah is home to over three million people and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute projects that by 2065, Utah will be home to roughly six million people. Even as the state grows more diverse, there is still an environmental justice divide visible in the Valley.

The east side houses a predominantly white population. One can usually find new and remodeled schools and readily available public transportation. There are pricey coffee shops every few blocks and multiple grocery stores within walking distance where residents can purchase organic, fresh fruits and vegetables. The east side of the Valley also sits at a higher elevation and in a way, overlooks the west side. But even at higher elevations, the air is still filling with particulate matter from emissions, just not at the same levels as what accumulates in the air down on the Valley floor.

West Side Industry

Westside industry.

The west side of the Valley houses a large majority of Utah’s lower-income families. There’s more diversity in the communities and predominantly, most people of color live on the Valley’s west side. Grocery stores are spread miles apart from residents, creating food deserts, and there’s a significant lack of public transportation. Instead of coffee shops and farmers markets littered throughout the neighborhoods, there are factories, refineries and major transportation, and trucking hubs all contributing to the air quality.

With the depleted air quality in the Valley, who is affected the most? Anthony Sudweeks is one of the principals at Wallace Stegner Academy (WSA), located on Bending River Road on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. The school offers a free, college preparatory education for grades K-8. With over 600 students, the majority of kids attending WSA are Hispanic, students of color and/or from low-income families who reside in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.

Sudweeks said he is asked by parents frequently, “Can you keep all the kids inside for indoor activities?” As much as he wishes that were possible, it’s not a reality. A few days of inside play are OK, but kids need to run and expel their energy so they can pay attention and learn while the teacher is instructing. Instead of packing hundreds of energy-filled kids in a crowded lunchroom like sardines in a can, the school adheres to strict guidelines on how the red, orange and yellow days are handled.

utahblueskyslc

A “green day” in Utah.

Sudweeks said, “On red days, no kids play outside. On orange and yellow days, students with asthma or heart conditions, who have to have a doctor’s form filled out, don’t go outside.”

The school uses one of the state’s outdoor air quality monitoring websites to decide who or if any students go outside during the orange and yellow days. “There are air testing monitors that the state funds all over the place,” Sudweeks said. “There’s one about two blocks from here.” He and the other employees at WSA are vigilant in making sure that the kids are not outside when the inversions are happening and when the air quality monitors show that any unnecessary exposure to the air would not be safe.

WSA checks the air quality website multiple times daily because, even though the weather is not the culprit, the pressure systems may change from morning to afternoon. But Sudweeks said, “It’s not really dependent on the weather. High- and low-pressure fronts can change it, but the air quality’s not very unpredictable. It’s predictable. In the morning we know what it’s going to be like in the afternoon, it doesn’t randomly change. It doesn’t predict green and turn into a red.”

Sudweeks did say that during the winter inversions the forecast will sometimes show a yellow day in the morning, but by the afternoon it will have turned into a red day. Those days, he said, “It’s a constant check, constant.”

An inversion builds, trapping pollution.

The area of WSA is surrounded by four major freeways. Sudweeks explained that the neighborhoods around the school are some of the worst polluted spots in the state when it comes to bad air quality. So, why knowingly put a school in an area that suffers from some of the most polluted air in the state? “Because this is where our students live,” Sudweeks said. “This is Glendale, and most of our students live in Glendale. If we moved the school somewhere else, what we’d be saying is, these kids don’t deserve a good charter school.” Glendale is a suburb of Salt Lake City and according to Statistic Atlas, roughly 40 percent of the population living there is Hispanic.

Sudweeks quickly affirmed, “This is their neighborhood and these kids absolutely deserve to have a great school in their own neighborhood.” He said that one of the reasons why the school’s location was decided was “to make sure that the kids living in some of the most polluted and lower-income parts of the city still have access to the best education possible.”

Sudweeks explained the environmental justice issues the school and area are facing. “It’s a nationwide phenomenon where the lower the income neighborhoods are, the more likely they are to live in bad air quality. Nearer to freeways and industrial areas.” He said that’s also particularly true in Utah. The area is economically growing and with that growth brings large diesel-fueled trucks, more traffic, congestion and, overall increased pollution.

Winter Smog

Eastside winter smog — University of Utah’s family housing.

Sudweeks also ran for state legislature in 2018. One of his platforms was Utah’s air quality, more specifically, the air quality monitors and their need to be updated. He said, “They need about $3 million invested into them because they’re falling apart. The session before the last, they voted to not put any money into them and this last session they put $1 million. But they are in desperate need of upgrades on the monitors themselves.”

Sudweeks said he feels like the majority of the legislature just doesn’t care because it would mean truly facing the air pollution problem. “They just pretend like it’s an issue we have no control over, which is not true.” Sudweeks said the state could completely move to Tier 3 fuel, which is low in sulfur and according to the EPA, reduces carbon dioxide emissions into the air.

Sudweeks said the state is also needing a revamp of the public transit system to meet the needs of the people. “Buses don’t get people on public transits, trains do,” he said. “We’re a big enough county where we could justify a large investment into public transits. Because of our air quality needs, we have no business not investing heavily in public transits.” Sudweeks referenced the recent legislature and said, “No money for public transit, but a lot of money for widening and expanding roads.”

He said Utah’s inversions give residents a false sense of security in believing the air is only bad when inversions are happening. A large study by Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health agrees. The study found that EPA standards may not be strict enough in preventing premature deaths from air pollution. The research showed that if particle pollutions in the air could be lowered by roughly 10 percent, the death rates of people 65 and older would be lowered, possibly saving 7,000 to 10,000 lives each year.

Hazy City

Haze building over the Salt Lake Valley.

Improvements to the air quality in Utah have been made over the years. Technological advancements created cars that run on natural gas and batteries. Electric vehicles, trains and buses are carrying more people around the Salt Lake Valley, reducing the need to get in a gas-operated vehicle for a quick drive to the store. More homes are being powered through renewable solar energy, and in general, more people are aware of the issues of air pollution and what contributes to it. Still, with all the improvements, there is a visible racial divide when it comes to air we breathe.

Rep. Angela Romero represents Salt Lake Valley’s House District 26. She is also one of the many advocates fighting for clean air in Utah. Of the roughly 39,000 people living in her district, almost 60 percent are Hispanic and people of color.

Romero said in a phone interview that when the topic of air pollution comes up, people have to realize there’s more to it than just air pollution. “There’s an environmental justice concern for those affected the most.” The EPA recognizes environmental justice as the fair treatment of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, and income with regard to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulation, and policies. This means that every person living has a right to a fair and meaningful life and protection from environmental and health hazards. This is not the case for hundreds of thousands of people living in the most polluted parts of the Valley bowl.

Romero said, “Most working-class communities and communities of color, live in areas that are more industrial, so they’re going to be exposed to more toxins in the air than others.” She and her colleagues are looking at the intersectionality of all issues facing people of color and marginalized communities. “We’re not looking at how they collide and how they displace people, it’s how they all work together,” Romero said.

As the Valley becomes denser in population, Utahns must continue being vigilant in finding and implementing ways to stay ahead of the added pollution. Romero said, “It’s kind of hard for us to solve the problem if we’re not coming up with innovative ways to address it [air pollution].”

Public Transportation

Riding public transit lowers dependence on fossil fuels.

Cleaning up the air is not a one-person job. It’s everyone’s job to work together to make it better. Romero said that a lot of time people want to put all the blame on industry and other heavy air polluters. But, she said, “We don’t look at ourselves and what small things we can do when we’re looking at air quality and energy. How do we play a role in that? What are some practices that we can change in our own lives?”

Romero said she’d like to see the state focus on using more renewable energy sources like adding roof-top solar panels to all state-run buildings and offering higher discounts to homes using solar panels. Businesses and homes can also update their heating and air-conditioning units to function more efficiently. Romero said it comes down to all residents making the commitment to change the habits that are contributing to the depleted air quality.

Utah has over 200 sunny days a year. Roof-top solar is an important investment for Utah’s future economy. More importantly, using a 100 percent renewable and clean energy source can help to improve the long-term health of all residents.

In the Salt Lake Valley’s mountain landscape environment, there will always be air pollution concerns. “We have inversions,” Romero said, “and they’re never going to go away, but what can we do to be more proactive, so we don’t make them worse?” Romero said that people can make little changes like taking public transit. Even though it may take a bit longer to get somewhere, plan for it and make it part of the routine. Walk or ride a bike if only going short distances and carpool whenever possible. The more we drive, the more we’re creating dirtier air with our cars. Romero said, “Getting people out of their vehicles and onto public transportation is a great way to start.”

Bikes are readily available around the city.

About the future of Utah’s air quality, Romero said, “We’re trying to be more proactive. We’re looking at inversions and air quality and we’re looking at it more from a public health perspective.” She also said, “If we truly want to change the route we’re going, we have to reevaluate systems that are in current existence. It’s not only about communities of color and marginalized communities. It’s about us as an entire community.”

Romero said all it takes are small changes in everyday routines to help improve air quality. Any day is a great day, to start a new and healthy habit.

To make improvements to Utah’s air quality, follow the CLEAN AIR plan:

C: Carpool whenever possible
L: Limit cold starts on cars and combine trips
E: Engage in clean air advocacy
A: Access public transportation
N: Navigate smog ratings and engine types
A: Avoid unnecessary commutes
I: Idle less or not at all
R: Ride a bike or walk when possible

To learn more ways to help clean up Utah’s air, visit the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Utah Department of Health, or Air Now.

 

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Salt Lake City hopes to erase the school-to-prison pipeline

Story, pictures, and infographic by ZANE LAW

The United States of America, according to a Prison Policy article, imprisons more people per capita than any other country, with approximately 2.3 million imprisoned individuals. Of this captive population, the article also says there is a large number of juvenile and young adult offenders. The school-to-prison pipeline has been used to describe this odd trend and what might be behind it.

The ACLU, or American Civil Liberties Union, talks of “zero tolerance” policies and police officers on campuses as being issues. The organization’s website says these policies criminalize behaviors that should easily be handled by the school or teachers. Forcing students to negatively interact with law enforcement at such a young age leaves them with a bad taste for both school and law enforcement officers.

In an article by the  Utah Public Policy Clinic, part of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, researchers state that the criminalizing of behaviors is also detrimental to the dropout rate of students. Students who are suspended once are twice as likely to drop out, while students with three or more suspensions are five times more likely. The clinic notes that by the end of suspensions, school disconnectedness, a feeling of exclusion, and lagging behind in school work are common.

Jeremy Robbins, a half-Colombian man, speaks to how detrimental suspension and expulsion are to learning experiences and young lives. In a phone interview, he spoke about an instance in which he and his friends played a prank on their California classmates. They tossed stink bombs inside the lockers of five people as they ran through their high school halls. While Robbins agrees that his behavior was childish and deviant, he is still upset by the punishments given. His white friends were given detentions and community service requirements, but Robbins was expelled for the exact same actions.

Robbins remembers feeling worthless and without hope. He never went back to school, but instead went to work in the construction industry. Once he was kicked out of his home at age 18, as his parents had experienced before him, he had no diploma and not enough money to live.

The California native wished to find a better job to support himself, but no one wanted a high school dropout among their ranks. Robbins says he fell back on crime and spent his days robbing stores. He was caught and charged with felony grand theft, leaving him with a criminal record and an even slimmer chance of landing a good job.

Emphasizing Jeremy Robbins’ experience and touching upon local issues, the article by the Utah Public Policy Clinic notes that 29 percent of the Utah Latinx population drops out of school. This is 16 percent more than white students. These disproportionate dropout rates lead to higher incarceration rates, as the clinic also states that one-third of Utah State Prison inmates are dropouts.

 

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Information gathered from Utah Public Policy Clinic and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The Public Policy Clinic says that dropouts are three and a half times more likely to be arrested. With Latinxs dropping out at higher rates and with a far higher probability of being arrested after leaving school, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that the prison system holds a 32.3 percent Hispanic demographic.

Shawn Clay, a pastor for New Beginnings Ministry, an occasional preacher at Salt Lake City Mission, and an ex-convict, said in an interview that we need to start tackling this inequality issue immediately. Clay says the first step is to “admit that it (racism) exists. Racism out here is done with a smile.” He believes that while authoritative people in Utah act kindly, they are still treating people of color unfairly.

Clay explains that because of the color of his own skin, he was treated differently. He was hit with harsher charges and given more time in jail than a white counterpart would have received. While Clay hated his time in jail, it is the lasting effects on his life that he despises most. Clay is not currently allowed to drive, he has a much harder time finding jobs, and he missed out on memories with loved ones. Clay says he is a far better person than the justice system gives him credit for, and is proud of his coined phrase, “#morethanmyrapsheet.”

The first parole officer to Clay and a cop of 20 years, Shannon Cox, even speaks of the racist ways of her troop and the criminal justice system. She tells of officers referring to people of color as the “bad guys” and knows she wants to change something about that narrative. 

Both Clay and Cox attended a “Week Against Prisons” event in April, hosted by ACLU and the U’s College of Social Work, to discuss racial inequality, police injustice, and the school-to-prison pipeline.

While Cox says that helping mistreated adults transition from jail into normal life is rewarding, she also realizes that underrepresented kids need attention. Cox says she wants to “help harmed kids to not become harmful adults” because she knows just how detrimental the pipeline is. If troubled kids are not cared for early on, she says the system simply amplifies their negative situations. 

To help with her plan of guiding others, Shannon Cox founded Journey of Hope in 2014. The organization’s mission statement explains that it seeks “to improve the lives of harmed and justice-involved women and girls by empowering them through gender-responsive case-management and mentorship.” Cox and her organization have helped more than 1,500 women and girls, with 250 of those having recently left prison. The website notes that the recidivism, or tendency to re-offend after leaving prison, is 17 percent while the state rate is 67 percent. 

People of color are still mistreated nationwide, but there are also plenty of folks like Clay and Cox looking to do their part. Salt Lake City, in particular, has been doing a lot to raise its voice. In addition to places like Journey of Hope and Salt Lake City Mission, Undocuweek and Week Against Prisons are both recent events held at the University of Utah.

 

 

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Local groups aim to ease Pacific Islander alienation through cultural identity

Story by ADAM FONDREN

Kautoke Tangitau, 30, was shot to death at Club Suede in Kimball Junction near Park City, Utah, on Oct. 14, 2003.

The Deseret News reported on Oct. 16, 2003, that the club, now closed, was hosting the reggae performer Lucky Dube when a fight broke out and Tangitau was assaulted and shot in the chest. Police and paramedics were called but were unable to resuscitate Tangitau. He died shortly after.

The Deseret News also described how Tangitau had a bench warrant for his arrest at the time of his death for failing to appear in court after being arrested and posting bail in July 2002. Charges included: purchase/possession of a dangerous weapon, obstruction of justice, assault on a police officer and carrying a concealed/dangerous weapon.

At the time of the murder, the then Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds stated to the Deseret News that he defined the shooting as a gang shooting involving Polynesian gangs.

Lavinia Taumoepeau-Latu, Tangitau’s girlfriend at the time, disputes this claim. She said in a phone interview that the fight was “just a bunch of boys” who jumped him and not a larger example of Pacific Islander gang violence as portrayed in the media. She said the only people in their party at the club were Tangitau, Taumoepeau-Latu and her sister, not an entire gang.

KSL reported on Oct. 13, 2003, that two men, Telefoni Palu and Viliamie Tukafu, were arrested in connection with Tangitau’s murder. At the time, neither was suspected of being the shooter nor was either charged with the murder.

KSL reported on March 10, 2009, that Finau Tukuafu was arrested and charged with the murder. Tukuafu pleaded guilty to third-degree felony homicide of Tangitau and was sentenced to five years in prison. Unable to find witnesses willing to testify against him, prosecutors were unable to convict Tangitau of first-degree murder. As a result, he served his five-year sentence and was released in January 2009. Tangitau is now a free man. His whereabouts are unknown.

“We’ve lost the duty to each other,” Taumoepeau-Latu said, referring to the way in which the Pacific Islander community has lost its way and forgotten its past on the mainland. According to Taumoepeau-Latu, who now lives in Tonga, this loss is due to two main factors: the lack of interaction within the community, and the desire to assimilate into the predominant culture after immigration caused a loss of traditional Pacific Islander cultural ways.

Concerning the participation of young Pacific Islanders in gangs Taumoepeau-Latu said, “They don’t have a sense of who they really are as Pacific Islanders, they don’t know what their responsibilities are to each other.” She continued, “If they did then I guarantee they wouldn’t fight amongst each other.”

Taumoepeau-Latu felt abandoned by her Pacific Islander community when this was all happening. She felt that not only was the portrayal of the Pacific Islander community in the media biased against her, but that her own community was biased and unhelpful toward her.

“This experience taught me a lot about what we’re working against, the disadvantage for the Pacific Islander youth,” Taumoepeau-Latu said when asked about what she felt what were the problems that led to Tangitau’s murder.

Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou said images of the athlete or the gangster are the primary examples provided to young men of Pacific Islander heritage here in the mainland. Feltch-Malohifo’ou is the executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), a community outreach program aimed at the Pacific Islander community that provides opportunities for advancement they might not otherwise have. These include business opportunities, opportunities to explore their heritage, to express themselves through art, dance and the spoken word and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to be surrounded by people of their own community.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou, her organization and its constituent entities have undertaken a concerted effort to reach disenfranchised Pacific Islanders. They have developed programs such as Pasifika Enriching Art of Utah (PEAU), headed by Bill Louis, that uses art to reach out, teach cultural history and provide outlets to the Pacific Islander youth of Utah. Another organization, Kommitment Against Violence Altogether (KAVA Talks), headed by Simi Poteki, uses roundtable discussion among Pacific Islander men to address the issue of domestic violence.

Lastly an event hosted by PIK2AR that specifically addresses the Pacific Islander youth is the People of the Pacific Conference, held on Feb. 22, 2018, at Utah Valley University (UVU). The conference is aimed specifically at Utah high schoolers of Pacific Island heritage with the aim of exposing them to aspects of their cultural heritage. This exposure is done with art, dance, talks and lessons. Most importantly — and in keeping with the general purpose of PIK2AR —  the event gives them a community to belong to and a sense of what it is to be of Pacific Islander heritage.

Through the efforts of PIK2AR, PEAU and KAVA Talks, the feelings of disenfranchisement that some Pacific Islanders experience in society and within their own community will hopefully be reduced. These groups aim to connect their cultural history and possible futures by giving them an inclusive community to exist within.

Post-incarceration life for the Pacific Islander community in Salt Lake City

Story and infographic by GEORGE W. KOUNALIS

According to the Utah Department of Corrections statistics, Pacific Islanders make up 3 out of every 100 inmates in their population.

Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), said, “Pacific Islanders are 1 percent of the general population in Utah, 4 percent of the prison population, and it’s not getting any better.”

The question arises, what resources are there for those leaving the prison system and what can society do to give former inmates a second chance?

“The color of your skin makes a huge difference. I’m not being racist, I’m speaking from experience,” said Randy Tinoga, 46, in a phone interview about life after prison.

Tinoga came from Hawaii to Utah in 1999. He moved to get away from a meth addiction. In 2002 Tinoga relapsed and went through multiple drug rehabilitation facilities across Salt Lake City. Odyssey House was his last inpatient residential program, and soon after leaving, he began using again in a much bigger manner.

Tinoga received charges in 2005 and was sent to federal prison January 2006 and released in April 2011. Tinoga was put on probation through the federal system until 2014. After getting in trouble, Tinoga has stayed in Utah and has not returned to Hawaii.

When inmates are released they are required to spend six months in a federal halfway house. During that time period, they have to find employment and then they’re expected to contribute back to society.

“The resources are out there, people are afraid to take a chance on a federal felon,” Tinoga said about his post-incarceration life.

“Every person in federal prison feels like you’re starting one to two laps behind everyone else,” Tinoga said. “If you’re a Polynesian convicted felon, you feel like you’re five steps behind everyone else.” These statements speak to what the prison system does to those who go through it and the impact the system has on minorities.

Tinoga said the most important thing needed outside of prison is a telephone and family. “Without a family, you’re playing catch up,” Tinoga said. “Most Polynesians incarcerated come from strong families. They do have a strong support system.”

The concept of family is a significant aspect of Pacific Islander culture. “The collectivist perspective is very important to the Pacific Islander community,” said Oreta M. Tupola, community health worker section coordinator with the Utah Public Health Association.

Tinoga is living in Salt Lake County and involved with PIK2AR’s Kommitment Against Violence Altogether (KAVA) talks, a Pacific Islander male domestic violence advocacy group. “My transition back to public life was easier on my part,” Tinoga said. “If you want to make a change, you have to take a chance! If someone is willing to take a chance on a Polynesian American, take a chance on them.”

Pauliasitolo Vainuku, 39, describes his life after leaving prison. Vainuku went to federal prison for a bank robbery. He was released from prison and had his probation terminated in January 2018.

“A lot of things in our culture, we don’t like to talk about,” Vainuku said in a phone interview. “Abuse is there and it’s not talked about. That’s how a lot of Pacific Islanders join a gang because there’s a cultural understanding there for them.”

Tupola said, “Family is important in Pacific Islander culture. Gangs are from a loss of that identity and trying to look for it again.”

This is where groups like PIK2AR’s KAVA talks come in. They can help those who are struggling with abuse.

Vainuku’s brother, who was involved in a gang, was killed when Vainuku was 12. “After his death I was depressed. I had nobody to talk to,” he said.

Vainuku then turned to robbing at the age of 12. “When you’re depressed you don’t care,” he said. “Certain things you do make you feel alive,” he said, describing how his robbing began.”If you keep doing the same things it becomes normal.”

A couple of months after turning 18, Vainuku was sent to federal prison. “For me it was actually getting away. Getting locked up made me able to escape reality,” he said.

Vainuku said after getting out of prison, there were resources available to him. “There’s a second chance bill that lets small businesses hire us and they bond them for hiring us.” The Second Chance Act of 2007 “was enacted to break the cycle of criminal recidivism; improve public safety; and help state, local, and tribal government agencies and community organizations respond to the rising populations of formerly incarcerated people who return to their communities.”

The bill gives the small business a bond that provides insurance in case a former inmate ends up robbing or doing damage to the business as well as a tax break for the business. Bills like this give former inmates of the federal prison system a second chance.

Vainuku spent six months in a federal halfway house while he worked and saved money to live independently. “The federal halfway house makes you actively look for employment,” Vainuku said.

These programs help federal prisoners when they adjust on the outside, but Utah State prisoners don’t receive many of these resources, according to Vainuku.

According to the Utah Department of Corrections, mental health resources are offered at Utah State Prison for prisoners within the system. “We’re coming out and not getting the help and support with mental health,” Vainuku said. “For the guys in prison, they need to get help in prison and get ready to come out.”

A May 2017 article in the Deseret News backs up what Vainuku said. Many of those in the Utah corrections system are not receiving appropriate care when they leave prison.

Vainuku said the state of Utah could do more to help inmates coming out. “In the state prison, they’re stuck in a cell with their cellie and get a packet. They’re not getting classes or help for life on the outside.” According to Vainuku, this packet is the only resource that state prisoners in Utah receive prior to being discharged.

Racial prejudice within jail is also a factor that makes it difficult for inmates. “Prison is a negative setting, the guards tend to get stuck in a negative mindset with an us versus them mentality,” Vainuku said. “The guards build a prejudice and they do things that upset the prisoners more.”

Tinoga said, “Stereotypes are bad all the way around. A good number of Polynesian men are first-time offenders.” Stereotypes of Pacific Islander men being pushed by society at large creates very negative environments that can hinder the lives of many of these men.

It’s important for society to look beyond stereotypes and give former inmates a second chance. “Just giving someone the opportunity helps,” Vainuku said. “Look at the individual instead.”

Many of these changes that society needs start at a community level. Challenge stereotypes, give individuals a second chance. Community-driven resources are also important.

In a 2016 Seattle Times article, Sarah Stuteville talks about the Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together (F.I.G.H.T), a group of former Pacific Islander and Asian inmates who work to provide resources to those leaving the Washington State penal system. The Utah Department of Corrections does offer programs to inmates, however, nothing specifically like the F.I.G.H.T group offered in Washington state.

 

Why mental health services fail Pacific Islanders

Story and photo by ANTHONY SCOMA

You are in a foreign country and you need help with an urgent problem. You may seek help but the stark differences in language, customs and values renders any assistance frustrating and ultimately useless.

That is the reality for many Pacific Islanders seeking mental health services in Utah.

The disconnect between Pacific Islanders and mental health services starts at the fundamental contrast between western culture and Pacific Islander culture. Oreta Tupola, a community health worker coordinator at Utah Public Health Association, said, “The differences in our culture is that individualistic perspective and [the] collectivist perspective.” She continued, “That community and family perspective is everything we’re about, and you can understand … all these issues that we’re facing. It surrounds how it impacts the family and how it impacts my family name and my lineage and my genealogy.”

The conception of the self and its relation to the world outside the self is important to mental health and informs how one deals with conflict. In a collective perspective, several sources said, the actions of the individual reflect the family or group as a whole. This is particularly important for immigrants from the Pacific Islands whose view of family connection extends far beyond the nuclear norm in the U.S.

Within this framework, the accountability to the family makes shame a powerful tool for social control. Lani Taholo, director and owner of Child and Family Empowerment Services, said in a phone interview that these feelings of shame also work as a deterrent to seeking mental health services.

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Lani Taholo in her Child and Family Empowerment Services office in the Glendale neighborhood of Salt Lake City.

“When it comes to shame, if we’ve done something wrong to lose face in our community it’s a big deal because we don’t want to bring shame to our family or our family name,” she said. “Then the poor family starts to feel judged and can easily feel … shamed by that so that just pushes it down further — to repress it and suppress it — and unless they have services that they can relate to they just don’t go.”

Taholo is currently working on her Ph.D. in Social Work at the University of Utah. Her research is on the underutilization of mental health services by Pacific Islanders and how to make those services more inclusive of their experiences and culture.

Taholo said that even when Pacific Islanders are required to use mental health services, the cultural differences are still an obstacle. In cases where violent behavior calls for intervention by mental health professionals, the established model does not seem to work for Pacific Islander participants. They either don’t attend or barely participate to avoid punishment. Taholo says that these approaches fail to relate to Pacific Islanders culture.

“There is no change, there is no healing, there is no recognition and acknowledgment of what’s really happening because it’s not even relatable,” she said. Taholo described instances when judges from the West Valley Justice Court called her to help out in cases involving Pacific Islanders because of their shared culture. “They already know they aren’t going to finish the other program,” she said.

The contrasting cultural perspectives also have consequences for communicating thoughts and feelings across generational divides in Pacific Islander communities. In the cases of first-generation immigrants, there is a separation of experience between those raised on the islands and those raised in the U.S.

Those experiences also represent a clash in cultural ideology for the new Americanized generation. They learn a collective perspective from their families, while school and peer interactions instill a more individualistic mentality.

Fisi Moleni, a licensed clinical therapist in Salt Lake City, said in a phone interview that the move to America introduced a lot of mental health issues that were not as prevalent in the islands.

“In that transition to America, the complexity of living here and all the different stimulus and exposure to society … it seems to have been quite a challenge,” he said. “The Polynesian parents, the Pacific Island parents, are trying to utilize to some degree their old methods of parenting, of conditioning … the core values of respect and loyalty and all those things.”

Moleni also links this change in geography and culture to the rise in various forms of addiction and has observed a disconnect between the first generation of immigrant parents and their American-raised children.

“Children are … leaving the home and being influenced by so many other entities that when it comes time to connect, there is a disconnect,” he said. “They don’t feel comfortable … communicating with parents and expressing difficulty with certain challenges at school, with friends, with … the more extreme addictive behavior.”

While this disconnect might lead to children being influenced more by friends and cultural norms, Moleni also acknowledged the potential of the Pacific Islander family to achieve positive mental health. When parents have the tools to communicate and connect with their children, the loyalty to name and family creates a robust, adaptable social network.

“Our people were the greatest navigators, the greatest seafarers that history … has seen,” Moleni said. “They adapted, they were able to use their navigational skills to extend themselves to other islands and to survive and began to thrive. … I thoroughly believe that we can adapt even here and not just survive but thrive within this society.”

No escape from danger: LGBT refugees fled to Kakuma Camp for their lives, only to be greeted with hostility

Story by KAYA DANAE

Photos by MBAZIRA MOSES and KAYA DANAE

Homophobia is pervasive in Kenya, and some LGBT refugees at Kakuma Camp say they have faced discrimination from fellow refugees and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) workers that has exacerbated living conditions in the overcrowded facility.

Mbazira Moses, a gay refugee currently living at the Kakuma Camp, said in an email interview, “I have been exposed to persecution and hostility ever since the time I arrived in Kakuma.”

Moses was assaulted and stabbed by a fellow refugee on Oct. 11, 2017. After reporting the incident to the police, Moses said nothing was done.

He claims he has been assaulted several times, but said police have never investigated. Instead of receiving help, Moses was jailed along with 18 other LGBT refugees who had peacefully protested their unfair treatment at UNHCR headquarters in Nairobi.

LGBT refugees peacefully protest at the UNHCR Headquarters in Nairobi.

After speaking with a lawyer, Moses was told to accept whatever charges were filed against him, as this was the only way he could expect assistance from UNHCR.

Established in 1992, Kakuma Camp is located in the northwestern region of Kenya. Ethiopian, Sudanese and Somali refugees fled their war-torn countries and came to Kakuma refugee camp, which is divided into four zones.

With an influx of new arrivals in 2014, Kakuma surpassed its capacity by over 58,000 individuals. The camp has expanded and currently holds 77,092 refugees, according to the UNHCR Kakuma informational pamphlet.

Moses said many of the staff at Kakuma Camp are homophobic and view the LGBT community as cursed. Individuals are not given the same opportunities as other refugees. They are not employable because of their sexual orientation and are not given proper medical treatment. Many medical centers refuse to serve them at all, he said, and if they are treated, they are often refused medication and treatment for HIV.

Moses Mbazira holds the LGBT flag in his tent at Kakuma Camp.

According to Moses and many other LGBT refugees living at Kakuma Camp, they face eviction due to homophobic neighbors, leaving them homeless in the camp. UNHCR has placed the LGBT community in a housing section next to the river, where they face flooding and mosquitoes. Many of the refugees have malaria and are not given the treatment they need. The homes themselves are just tents, not properly covered to protect from the rain.

Thirteen UNHCR employees stationed at Kakuma Camp were contacted about Moses’ allegations of mistreatment toward LGBT refugees in the camp. Only four responded, and they said they could not comment.

“Agony has brought action,” Moses said. “Many of the LGBT members who have been granted asylum and refugee status under UNHCR within Kenya, receive consistent persecutions and grief by the host community and other members living within the camp. We (LGBT Community) have articulated our concerns to UNHCR but have been overlooked. This has caused a need to call on UNHCR to permit us a convention letter that will grant us a fair free movement to seek asylum in a country where we reserve the same rights as other refugees regardless of our sexual orientation.”

Barnabas Wobilaya, 36, is a gay Ugandan refugee and HIV/AIDS activist who was resettled in Salt Lake City. He fled Uganda and arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2015. Wobilaya became an HIV/AIDS activist in Uganda because he had two siblings who lost their lives to HIV. Because of his activism, he was exposed as a gay man in the newspapers, lost his job, and had to move around a lot for his own safety.

“When you get to Kakuma, there is no housing. You arrive at the camp, and they give you land. You build your own house. They give you poles and a tent to put up yourself, some people use iron sheets for their roof,” Wobilaya said.

“The LGBT people are always the last people to get the services they need, always,” he said.

“Their cases are not being worked on. They have been there for years. Three years, five years. Cases of LGBT refugees are supposed to be fast because their need is so immediate. We suffer. I know people that have been in Kakuma since I arrived in Kenya that have still never seen their files. They don’t know what’s going on. Nothing happens.”

The resettlement process is in the hands of the Government of Kenya. Because Kenya still maintains largely homophobic outlooks  and policies, many LGBT folk are treated as criminals rather than asylum seekers and refugees.

“When I was in Kenya, I could not find a job,” Wobilaya said. “Kenyans know that many refugees from Uganda are gay. They are very homophobic. You go to the store to buy something, and they say ‘Uganda?’ and then they kick you out. You cannot buy things, if you can’t speak Swahili they will not give you service. They then say ‘these are gays’ in Swahili and you know to leave or else you will be beaten.”

LGBT refugees attempt to drain the water from the river that flooded their tent in Kakuma Camp.

Wobilaya was evicted from homes three times because his landlords discovered his sexual orientation. Many LGBT people are forced to live in Kakuma because landlords refuse to rent to them in Nairobi.

The UNHCR used to give refugees a stipend of 6,000 Kenyan shillings, which is about $60 U.S. per month. With that, they were supposed to pay their rent, medical bills, transportation cost and phone bill.

“Today they give them $45, but you have to pass an assessment that your living conditions are horrible, many people have to live in one room, a lot end up on the streets as sex workers so they can afford to live,” Wobilaya said.

“Now that I am in the States it is difficult to find ways to help. They tell me ‘we are dying’ and I can’t do much. After I pay my rent and bills I send my leftover money to my LGBT friends in Kenya. So I ask, let us help these people. Let’s fundraise. Help them to buy food,” Wobilaya said.

At Kakuma camp, World Food Program ( WFP) in partnership with UNHCR provides food distribution (maize, peas, flour, cooking oil, soap, salt, porridge) and some essential items like soap and toothpaste to every refugee within the camp.

However, the food supply has been continually decreasing, Wobilaya said, leaving LGBT refugees at a disadvantage since they are unable to find work and buy their own food. UNHCR has not created a system to notify LGBT members about their case progress levels, and they feel they cannot turn anywhere for support.

Wobilaya encourages the  LGBTQ community in Utah to help. “We in the LGBT community are one big family, so advocate for your brothers and sisters; that’s the only thing I ask.”

You can contact Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu, the UNHCR head of sub-office in Kakuma, at cansizog@unhcr.org and you can donate to the LGBT Kakuma refugee community through a fundraiser established by a Salt Lake City LGBT activist.

 

 

 

 

 

Social media fundraising for refugees: A dream nightmare come true

Story and slideshow by JACE BARRACLOUGH

The creation of social media has connected people worldwide. For some, it’s a tool used to help refugees of war-torn countries. Through various organizations, a person can simply click a link that redirects them to a donation site where they can send money to provide relief to refugees struggling to survive financially, medically and educationally. But, knowing where the money is going is crucial.

Humanwire is a website geared toward assisting refugee families. It claims 100 percent of donations go to the cause. It was founded by Andrew Baron in Boulder, Colorado, in November 2015. It has marketed itself by encouraging its followers to share personal stories of their supported refugee families and donation campaigns via social media. Just like most businesses, Humanwire understands that word of mouth from those you trust bridges the gap between hesitation and execution when it comes to buying a product — or in this case, donating money.

“I was made aware of it because of another friend who posted about it on social media,” says Molly Jackson of Park City, Utah, in a phone interview. “When I saw her experience and how easy it was … [I said] I’m going to do that.”

Humanwire allows donors to choose a refugee family to support by way of social media-like profiles on its website. The amount that is donated, whether all at once or collectively, allows donors greater or lesser degrees of interaction with the family. Individuals providing smaller donations are awarded limited information about the family they have sponsored, whereas larger donations allow you to interact with them via live-stream on Skype.

Jackson says she hasn’t donated or posted about it for months. However, she receives email notifications that friends and strangers alike continue to donate to her chosen family as a result of her old social media posts. She’s received single donations to her Humanwire account totaling $1,000 to support her refugee family. Some are from people she doesn’t even know.

“It’s as easy as posting an Instagram post,” she says. “You just say, ‘Look at these people. They are in need. I’m the host. Here’s the link. Donate your money.’”

Trusting that their friends and loved ones are vetting the organization, it has left little thought for many to follow through with the research portion of the company before handing over their hard-earned dollars.

In the summer of 2017 it was claimed in a YouTube video, posted by Humanwire’s co-founder Andrew Baron, that the director of its “Tent to Home” program, Anna Segur, had stolen $10,000 via ATM withdrawals.

“The theft was followed by intense slander, criminal activity and harassment,” Baron says in the description portion of his video. “She caused many people to join her cause, misleading volunteers to believe that she owns and controls Tent to Home, and causing many of our staff members to quit out of pure fear for her slander.”

The other co-founder of Humanwire, Mona Ayoub, was living in Lebanon, taking care of the company’s donations, schools, students, teachers, employees, and registering refugees. In August 2017 after the funds stopped, Ayoub said via Facebook Messenger, she flew to the United States to get to the bottom of the issue. Unfortunately, she discovered Baron had mismanaged the funds and misrepresented the way they were being used. She said Baron claimed the money had gone toward operating costs even though Humanwire had promised all donated funds would go to the refugees.

In September 2017, Baron later admitted to the Denver Post to have taken as much as $80,000 over the last two years. However, after a police investigation, it was discovered that Baron had taken over $100,000 from Humanwire and was arrested on felony charges of charity fraud and theft.

Ayoub submitted her letter of resignation on November 1, 2017.

“Had I known the extent of mismanagement and misrepresentation prior to traveling to the United States, I would have resigned immediately,” Ayoub said.

Yet more problems have surfaced since the claims against Humanwire. The organization has started to lose its partnerships with other organizations dedicated to helping refugees.

“Standing With Alana” is a group whose mission is bringing awareness and aid to the Yezidi people from Syria who are facing a genocide at the hands of ISIS.

On October 8, 2017, Standing With Alana announced via Facebook, “Standing With Alana is no longer working through Humanwire due to financial problems within the organization. We are now communicating directly through Yezidi Emergency Support (YES).”

Yezidi Emergency Support team leader Anne Norona was one of Humanwire’s contacts overseas. As Baron tried to extinguish the flames of ridicule on Humanwire’s Facebook page, Norona added more fuel by expressing her frustrations in a reply to Baron’s YouTube video, which he later shared on Humanwire’s Faceboook page.

“I asked you in JUNE to send the money when I last went to Iraq,” she says. “There are FOUR Yezidi families you owe a LOT of money to.”

With allegations publicized, both internally and from its partners, it has left donors wondering what happened with the money intended to help their refugee families.

“I did photo shoots and donated all the money I made to them,” says Terra Cooper of Syracuse, Utah. “It was a sacrifice for my family since usually that’s how I pay for our Christmas.”

Through Humanwire, donors like Cooper have their own financial account to hold money for their refugee family. Whenever the family needs certain items they can use that money to purchase them on Humanwire’s site and have it delivered by local representatives. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work?

“I’ve released money for surgeries and medical bills and they’ll send me a picture of them holding the check,” Cooper said in a phone interview. “They’ve been good at sending that kind of stuff.”

However, she says she’s noticed over the last few months things haven’t quite been the same. Cooper has had approximately $1,000 left of the $3,000 she raised in her family’s account, but she has been unable to use it.

“I’ve been trying to release that $1,000 for their rent for three or four months and it still hasn’t been released,” she says. “I have been emailing them and I haven’t heard back.”

Cooper even went as far as commenting on Humanwire’s Facebook page asking for answers, but says her post was deleted by the company. When trying to get in touch with her point of contact, she was made aware that person had left the organization.

“I’m sick about it,” she says. “I don’t care about me, though. That money was supposed to be rent money for my refugee family.”

Cooper’s love for her refugee family, with whom she has kept in contact, is what has fueled her to investigate the dealings of her funds. After all, at the end of the day it’s the refugees, not the donors, who suffer the biggest loss.

“The organization did do a lot of good in the beginning,” says Laurel Sandberg-Armstrong, a donor of Humanwire. “My guess is they expanded too fast and lost control,” She said in a phone interview.

The Federal Trade Commission encourages anyone who is thinking about donating to a charity to do research beforehand. Well-known organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are generally good options for those wanting to donate.

Humanwire was contacted for comment. An employee replied via Facebook Messenger saying the accusations were misunderstood and they still encourage people to support their organization.

“Humanwire is awesome,” a representative from Humanwire said in a Facebook message. “Please give it a try and see for yourself.”

 

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