Tamsen Staniford, L.Ac.
Supportive Housing is affordable housing for those
at risk for homelessness. It is similar to public housing in that it
addresses the housing needs of low income individuals and families, but
it also offers access to services such as harm reduction, community
building, healthcare, job training, money management, and other programs
to help maintain stable housingi . Access to resources is
provided to residents by a large network of community health care
providers, non-profit organizations, faith based organizations, and
local and federal government programs.
With the tireless efforts of compassionate
individuals and non-profit organizations, New York City created the
model in the 1980’s that the majority of other communities have
emulated, with San Francisco following in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
The majority of supportive housing communities are in Single Resident
Occupancy (SRO) hotels in major urban areas such as NYC and SF, and
housing projects in mid-size and smaller citiesii.
Acupuncture and related Oriental Medical services
can play many important roles within these communities. Perhaps the most
well known success of acupuncture in public health is the NADA protocol.
The protocol was developed by the National Acupuncture Detox Association
to ease the symptoms of detoxification and support recovery from
substance useiii. The protocol has been used in clinics,
detox centers, and prisons across the country with good success. NADA is
an important tool in a supportive housing community as a large number of
residents may be active or recovering substance users.
The majority of residents have multiple medical
diagnoses in addition to current or past substance use that often
include diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV, hepatitis C, and/or mental
illness. The burden of cost for medical care is enormous and largely
subsidized by taxpayers through local and federal programs. Care for
these patients falls to local emergency rooms and low cost or free
community clinics as most are insured by MediCal or Medicare, if at all.
Acupuncture is one tool to help reduce local and
federal costs by helping treat acute and chronic illness, providing
health education and referrals, and making additional links to case
managers and directors, on site medical providers, and community health
resources. Acupuncture treatment can help improve a patient’s condition
so that they use less pain medication and spend less time in hospitals
and emergency clinics. Acupuncture can also help residents cope with the
everyday stresses that come with living in these communities.
Perhaps the most important role the acupuncture
practitioner can play in these communities is simple human connection.
The practitioner is a medical provider, but also a compassionate heart,
an advocate, a good listener, an educator, and hopefully a role model.
As acupuncturists, we create a safe space for someone to drop their
burdens, breathe deeply, and relax. A place to be heard and understood,
validated and cared for, and in many cases, inspired to continue making
healthy life choices.
Acupuncture programs do well in supportive housing
communities that have established community involvement activities and
services as well as access to other health care modalities. Introducing
acupuncture services during other group meetings such as health fairs,
coffee hours, and other medical evaluations increase the likelihood and
number of residents that request treatments. The sense of community that
is created by group acupuncture gives participants a sense of greater
connection to their neighbors and service staff and increases
participation in the surrounding activities.
Challenges to acupuncture programs arise mainly
when there is a lack of participation or interest from service staff,
when there is a general lack of trust or sense of community among
residents, or lack of funding to keep a program running. Each of these
challenges requires a different solution specific to the community. As a
result, a large portion of the acupuncturist’s personal growth, as well
as the impact of the service to the community, come from meeting these
challenges. The rewards are well worth the effort for the community, the
residents, and the acupuncturist.
Tamsen Staniford, L.Ac., MSTOM practices
acupuncture and oriental medicine in San Francisco, California. Her work
with supportive housing was done through Quan Yin Healing Arts Center
and Episcopal Community Services. Currently, she performs house calls
treatments for homebound patients; and practices at Schizandra Health
Center. She can be reached at