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Marina Marmolejo - Los Angeles, California

As one of the deliverables of my project, I created educational material that describes the nutritional benefits of fruit. These informational cards are located on each tray, which will hopefully promote more fruit consumption among the youth.

Career goal: I want to apply my public health knowledge regarding evidence-based interventions and innovations to lessen the adverse health effects in homeless communities in LA county. Although the statistics ebb and flow, LA is home to about 55,000 homeless individuals. In my future job I want to take a macro-level approach in understanding how to most effectively reach a population that is constantly creating new behavioral strategies to survive. I will leverage and mobilize various stakeholders in order to most efficiently and accurately tackle the daunting public health epidemic that is mass homelessness.

Internship outline:This summer I collected data for my thesis at Safe Place for Youth, which is a drop in center for homeless and transient youth in Los Angeles. Overall, this project serves to understand the dietary profile of homeless youth who eat a considerable amount of their weekly meals at SPY, along with their lived experiences regarding food insecurity. I conducted a nutritional analysis of the lunches and dinners to determine the contribution that SPY is making to the dietary profile of its members. I also interviewed youth about their experience obtaining food on the streets and how they strategically navigate their unique experiences with food insecurity.

Value of experience: Nutritious eating is a prerequisite for effective work, relationship building, and is instrumental to survival. All youth living on the streets meet the USDA’s definition of food insecurity, which is the “limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially dependable ways.” A large majority of the literature focuses on food insecurity regarding domiciled families, but few focus on the experiences of homeless communities, especially homeless youth who face additional challenges to eating nutritious diets. Malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies among homeless youth are particularly concerning because it can exacerbate the risk of certain adverse health behaviors that are disproportionately prominent in this population, such as depression, substance abuse, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. This summer was so special to me because I was able to grow as a public health professional through a meaningful data collection that can be used to bring awareness to the lived experiences of this hard to reach population. Ideally, my results can be used to change local policy regarding government food subsidies for homeless youth.

Best moment/experience: Conducting the qualitative interviews was by far my favorite part of the summer. Specifically, I felt humbled to be awarded the knowledge of the street sub-culture. The harsh demands of a transient lifestyle require youth to be hyper-resourceful when obtaining basic human needs. I felt honored to have shared in this research partnership with these youth and I am forever grateful for their openness and honesty.

Funding source: Yale School of Public Health Summer Funding