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NYT's Prenatal Homeless Yoga

NYT's Prenatal Homeless Yoga

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Published by LauraNovak

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Published by: LauraNovak on Dec 09, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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12/8/09 1:21 PMForging Ahead With Life’s Tests, One Day at a Time - New York TimesPage 1 of 3http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/12/giving/12PRENATAL.html?_r=1&ref=giving&oref=slogin
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Darcy Padilla for The New York Times
Two women in the class take a break.
Forging Ahead With Life’s Tests, One Day at a Time
Darcy Padilla for The New York Times
San FranciscoSHE is 40 and pregnant for the firsttime. One morning in late Septembershe took a yoga class wearing shortsand a bright pink T-shirt with the words Miss Congeniality emblazonedacross the front. After an hour of posing and stretching, the womantossed back her blond ponytail,grabbed some yogurt and fruit and joined 20 other women in variousstages of pregnancy for a prenataleducation class. As part of the group discussion, she shared her problems withsleeplessness, heartburn and soreness. Then, evoking much laughter, she said, “But all inall, I’m stoked!”Her euphoria may be difficult to comprehend. The woman is homeless, subsisting on$342 a month in government checks and battling what she calls a “garbage can” of drugaddictions that include methamphetamine, marijuana and crack cocaine.
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12/8/09 1:21 PMForging Ahead With Life’s Tests, One Day at a Time - New York TimesPage 2 of 3http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/12/giving/12PRENATAL.html?_r=1&ref=giving&oref=slogin
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But she has made a soft landing at one of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets: theHomeless Prenatal Program, a nonprofit center created 19 years ago that could help turnher and her baby’s lives around.The Homeless Prenatal Program has evolved from its original mission of helpingdestitute women give birth to and then keep healthy babies to become a resourcededicated to stabilizing entire families. It offers what this particular woman excitedly described here as “a plethora of services” for mental health, housing and substance abuseproblems. It combines those with an array of alternative health approaches not usually available to the poor, like yoga, massage and chiropractic treatments.“People call me a reckless optimist, and you have to be to do this kind of work,” saidMartha Ryan, founder and executive director of the Homeless Prenatal Program. “But Isee enough success. I see people really able to turn their lives around, and I see theirchildren be able to move forward and have a different life.”The program sees 3,000 people a year, 91 percent of them women. Twenty people arriveeach day for an intake session, referred by other agencies or through word on the street.Sixty percent of the clients are homeless, and the most pressing problem, Ms. Ryan said,is finding safe, affordable housing, especially for women who are at risk of losing theirchildren to Child Protective Services.But Ms. Ryan said the real common denominator was poverty and abuse as a child.More shocking than the sheer numbers, she added, was that the cycle keeps going.Children of women she treated 18 years ago are now clients, pregnant or with childrenand living in poverty like their mothers.Half of the 53 staff members have been homeless, abused or drug addicted themselves. As part of turning their lives around, they trained as community health workers in a 12-month program that teaches office and outreach skills. Some find permanent work at thecenter. Others move on to nonprofit groups.Here, working out of offices decorated with family pictures and their children’s drawings,the women speak a shared language with those whose lives have hit bottom.“There’s a sense that people who don’t have lots of money or don’t have certainrequirements can’t take care of their children — but that’s just not the case,” said LaureMcElroy, a community health worker whose son was born two months after she finisheda methadone program. “I have hope for everyone who comes through the door, because Iknow as a parent you have to make things work. You just have to.”One morning, Ms. McElroy started a file for a 41-year-old drug-addicted homeless woman who is pregnant with her second child. Five years ago, her newborn son had been put into foster care and later adopted, and she was terrified the authorities wouldtake this baby, too. Ms. McElroy gently guided her through the forms and arranged for afollow-up visit with a case manager to sort out housing, health and welfare issues.But the woman didn’t return for the appointment. When someone from the programcalled, looking for her at the mental health clinic where she receives two medicines fordepression, her case manager said she had not come back recently for the medication.

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