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Thread: Tai Chi & the homeless

  1. #1
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    Tai Chi & the homeless

    KSL TV
    Tai Chi lessons bring exercise and hope for Salt Lake City's homeless
    By Alex Cabrero | Posted Feb 8th, 2017 @ 9:33pm


    Bernie Hart leads morning tai chi classes at the Salt Lake City Library for the city's homeless. (Photo: KSL TV)


    Fred Davis is among the homeless who comes in the morning to enjoy the workout, and take his mind off of his troubles. (Photo: KSL TV) 

    SALT LAKE CITY — Thanks to volunteer instructor Bernie Hart, morning Tai Chi lessons at the Salt Lake City Library bring exercise and hope to the city's homeless.

    “Blank stares” is what Hart says he was met with when he first talked about setting up the program.

    “It was like they couldn’t understand…the event and the ideas,” he said.

    Five months ago, Hart went to the library, knowing that many of the cities homeless also went there in the mornings.

    “We didn’t know what to expect. We started with an idea and nobody,” Hart said.

    But nobody soon turned into one, then a few, and now as many as 40 people come in the morning to practice Tai Chi as their morning workout.

    For many, it allows them to simply have a time in their day where they get to focus on something other than being homeless.

    Fred Davis came to Salt Lake City two years ago, and is among the cities homeless population.

    “It’s still kind of hard, you know, to get by day to day,” he said.

    “We’re really exploring an idea about how motion and movement influences how we think about things,” Hart said about the program.

    But the morning lessons offer the chance to take his mind off his troubles — at least for a few minutes — and help him get a good exercise.

    “It gets you moving and your body feels wonderful after you finish,” Davis said.

    Of course, Hart knows that Tai Chi isn’t going to solve the city’s homeless problem — that’s going to take more than morning exercise — but he just wants people of feel better about themselves.

    “They see changes and something happening,” Hart said about his class participants.

    And for the homeless, change can lead to hope.

    Contributing: Freeman Stevenson
    Freeman Stevenson is a web producer at KSL.com
    This is a great concept, worthy of it's own thread. I'm constantly impressed by Tai Chi's ability to reinvent itself and stay relevant and vital in the modern world.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneChing View Post
    This is a great concept, worthy of it's own thread. I'm constantly impressed by Tai Chi's ability to reinvent itself and stay relevant and vital in the modern world.
    Me to! Hence the literal translation: "Supreme Ultimate Boxing"
    Buy the best and cry once!

  3. #3
    those homeless people look very well fed. if he tried that here hed get murdered.

    25th generation inner door disciple of Chen Style Practical Wombat Method
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    Being a traveling Kung Foo hobo, this article gets me... right here.

    I'd be more worried about teaching them basic health qigong and nutritional advice tho.

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    Homeless Tai Chi

    Gene Ching
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    More on Understanding Us

    There's a vid and more pix behind the link.

    Pay it Forward: Homeless tai chi
    BY MAREN JENSEN WEDNESDAY, MAY 31ST 2017



    (KUTV) A Utah couple has a unique approach to helping the homeless population in Utah--tai chi.

    Bernard and Marita Hart started the group Understanding Us, and host free tai chi classes outside the Salt Lake City Public Library on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings at 9 a.m..

    They've been offering the service since October of last year.

    "We've been having 34, 35, 40 people a day," said Bernard Hart, also known as Bernie.

    The Harts worked with children who have autism, and found that tai chi could help calm their nerves.

    So they decided to try the practice with the homeless population "to see if the ideas could get people comfortable, feeling good about themselves, thinking about their day in a different way," according to Bernie Hart.

    And for those who attend the free tai chi sessions, it seems to be working.

    "I feel relaxed. It takes you to a whole other realm of comfort," said Leroy, who is homeless and has attended the class for about six months.

    People from all walks of life are welcome to join the class, which is starting to form its own little community.

    "At first you're a little bit apprehensive," said Carl, who used to be homeless. "But once you get involved with the rest of them, you feel included."

    The Harts and their volunteers also feed participants coffee and burritos before class, and send them away with a couple of dollars.

    "We feel good being here," said Bernie.

    Mountain America Credit Union donated $500 to help Understanding Us continue its efforts. They hope to expand their efforts with more programs and partnerships.

    For more information on Understanding Us, or if you want to help out, you can visit their website or Facebook page.
    Gene Ching
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  7. #7
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    Our WINTER 2019 issue

    READ Helping the Homeless Find a Balance with Tai Chi By Lori Ann White in our WINTER 2019 issue. Available digitally too via Zinio.

    Gene Ching
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    More on Bernie Hart's work

    Good to see Hart's work is continuing onward.


    Tai Chi classes for the homeless bring community, stability

    Morgan Smith, Associated Press Updated 10:14 am CDT, Wednesday, October 23, 2019


    In this Oct. 2, 2019, photo, Whitey Christian performs tai chi at the Salt Lake Main Library, in Salt Lake City. The participants are homeless people who take part in a free tai chi program run by a retired couple who started the classes three years earlier. Now, more than 50 people regularly attend. Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP / Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
    Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP
    IMAGE 1 OF 14

    SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — On a quiet morning outside a library in Salt Lake City, about 70 people are kicking and slicing at the air as they practice the ancient martial art of tai chi.

    The group moves uniformly, a silent army save for the gurgling noises of an artificial waterfall and the wind moving through blades of grass.

    But this isn't a well-trained class of health enthusiasts wearing new tennis shoes and expensive leggings.

    They are homeless people.

    One man with a long, gray beard balances on his right leg with a ragged blanket draped over his shoulders. A barefoot woman wearing torn jeans does the exercises as a tiny dog circles around her legs. Some attendees sit cross-legged and watch, sipping coffee or listening to music on an iPod.

    The participants take part in the free program run by a retired couple who started the classes three years ago by approaching homeless people in tents and pushing grocery carts near the Salt Lake City Public Library to encourage people to join them.

    Bernie and Marita Hart had one participant in their first class. Now, more than 50 people regularly attend tai chi five days a week at the downtown library and Pioneer Park, where many homeless people congregate.

    Bernie Hart, a 78-year-old retired business owner, found tai chi a comforting way to relax, practice balance and controlled movement when he became anxious before skiing. He thought the exercise could help others find stability in their lives.

    The focus is less on mastering the exercise and more on building a community for transient people.

    People gather at the library an hour before the class began, hugging friends and chatting about their week.

    The Harts arrive with coffee and begin rallying the group to spread out and stretch.

    David Christopher Coons, 54, bounces into the plaza with a cigarette hanging between his front teeth. He says "good morning" to everyone before settling into a stretching routine.

    Coons has been attending the classes for three years, often leading them alongside the Harts.

    "It's a great way to start the morning," he says. "It helps with my memory and my balance while I try to figure out what's going on in my life."

    Coons was fired from his job as an electrician about five years ago. He has been homeless since, vacillating between sleeping in shelters or on the streets of Salt Lake City.

    He says the class motivates him to take care of himself and gives him something to look forward to during the week.

    "What we're doing here isn't tai chi . it's a circle of friends coming together to do something for themselves, and for each other," Coons says.

    There's a clear demand for such programming.

    Utah's homeless population has steadily increased over the last three years, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. State officials have cited several factors for the backward slide: increasing housing costs, stagnant wage growth, the opioid epidemic.

    Utah recently unveiled a strategic plan to reduce homelessness in Utah by increasing affordable housing options and opening new resource centers.

    As the class gets ready to start, homeless people cast away their belongings — coats, backpacks, Ziploc bags filled with toiletries, —and organize themselves into neat rows.

    Marita Hart weaves through the crowd, smiling and patting attendees on the back.

    Bernie and David are at the front of the group, leading people through a rhythm of synchronized moves: squats, arm raises and slow, rotating movements. Everyone is quiet.

    Eden Petersen, 32, has been attending the class for two years. She stands in the back, teetering out of the positions and laughing at herself. Petersen says the classes are the most peaceful part of her day. She recently moved into housing downtown.

    "It gets my blood flowing, it gets me limber and lose for the day, it just wipes any stress I have away," she says.

    A dozen or so birds perch on the top of the library, looking down on the group.

    "Look, even the birds are mesmerized by us," someone calls out.

    The silence diffuses as Coons breaks into an air guitar move, and the group follows. Everyone laughs.

    Marita Hart says her favorite part of the program has been watching the camaraderie between participants and the positive impact the class has on their lives. The Harts are pursuing research grants as they hope to offer more workshops at homeless shelters downtown.

    "You see a lot of people that have been kicked out of a lot of places, and the system doesn't know what to do with them," said Bernie Hart. "But there's never a fight, they show up here on a regular basis to do something that's really difficult."

    When the Harts are out of town, the classes continue. Attendees take turns teaching the moves, kicking and swiping at the air as mothers jog by with strollers and the library security guards watch through the windows.

    "Homeless people are told what to do every place they go, but we want to encourage them to be leaders," Bernie Hart said. "They don't need sympathy, they need something that works."
    Gene Ching
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    Street Tai Chi update

    ‘We bribe them with $2 and cigarettes’: Why a Salt Lake grassroots program is thriving
    Street Tai Chi is fostering trust, clarity and togetherness for one of the most vulnerable populations.

    (Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the unsheltered community participate in tai chi at the City Library in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 14, 2022.

    By Saige Miller
    | May 13, 2022, 5:55 a.m.
    | Updated: 8:39 a.m.
    This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.


    Upon arriving at the main library in Salt Lake City, a man is visibly nervous with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

    The man, Colby, sits on a log while his friend straps a pair of stilts to his feet. When Colby tries to stand, Bernie Hart, the co-founder of the Salt Lake City nonprofit Understanding Us, holds onto him as he reaches for the slackline above him.

    Hart offers words of encouragement and soft explanations.

    “That’s your body telling you something’s not right. It’s anxiety,” Hart says to Colby as he adjusts to the learning curve of being 10-feet tall. “Feel your feet.”


    (Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Benjamin Bandfield, left, prepares stilts for Colby, an unsheltered individual, before tai chi at the City Library.


    (Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bernie Hart, left, smiles as Colby, an unsheltered individual, completes walking on stilts. Hart calls the stilts exercise a lesson in uncertainty and gaining confidence in uncomfortable situations.

    It took all of seven minutes, if that, before Colby’s anxiety evaporated and he was walking on the stilts alone with a big smile on his face.

    As Colby familiarizes himself, Hart shouts, “You’re so cool!” with a big chuckle.

    His wife and co-founder of Understanding Us, Marita Hart, says it’s impossible to ignore Bernie, especially with that laugh. “You can hear him in a crowd,” she said with equal measures of admiration and exasperation.

    The stilts are just one of many trust exercises the Harts facilitate for Utah’s street community.

    Their main program is Salt Lake City Street Tai Chi which unites, empowers and supports the street community (the Harts and tai chi participants prefer “street community” over the homeless community) through the ancient Chinese practice.

    Bernie, 81, and Marita, 79, started SLC Street Tai Chi seven years ago. The Harts felt no one was working to improve the lives of Utah’s street populations in such an interpersonal way. The lack of support for Utahns living on the street is what drew Bernie to facilitate a space where they felt safe, trusted and noticed.


    (Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marita and Bernie Hart, the organizers of Salt Lake City Street Tai Chi. The Harts have been leading the group for six years.

    The positive benefits of tai chi are undeniable, the Harts say. Bernie knew the impact that slow, controlled movements would have on people who have experienced trauma. He assumes everyone he works with in the program is navigating some kind of post-traumatic stress or mental illness.

    The foundation
    It began with one person joining Bernie for tai chi outside The Road Home. Since then, the grassroots program has exploded. Now, roughly 50 people attend regularly and it’s entirely run by the street community.

    Even when COVID-19 shut down the program for a period, members of the street community continued to organize sessions in various locations throughout Salt Lake City.

    Bernie and Marita know everyone by name. If they don’t, they’ll be sure to learn it. In fact, they keep an attendance sheet of everyone who comes to tai chi, which is held at the library quad every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10 a.m. Some people show up four times a week; others drop in now and again.

    No matter how often they go, the program carries on. If it snows, they bring shovels.

    Everyone who participates is greeted with a warm cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito. After tai chi, everyone turns in a ticket that they can exchange for $2 or a pack of hand-rolled cigarettes.

    “We wanted them to participate in tai chi and learn the benefits of it. So we bribe them with $2 and cigarettes,” Bernie said with his trademark laugh.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
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    continued from previous post

    The power of movement
    Greg Power attends every tai chi session he can. Four days a week for the last five years.

    He hands out the cigarettes and money at the end of every session. He knows every name. If he doesn’t know the name, he’ll be sure to ask in his faint New Zealand accent.


    (Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Greg Power distributes two dollars or cigarettes to members of the unsheltered community after completing tai chi.

    On this particular Wednesday morning in late March, Power walked to the edge of the library courtyard as 50 sets of eyes followed.

    Everyone fell silently into formation across the quad and mimicked Power’s tai chi movements. A man who’d had what his fellow tai chi members labeled a schizophrenic episode before tai chi started immediately calmed down and began leading the group alongside Power.

    Arms flowed in unison. The footsteps are nearly in sync.

    “Look how calm it is,” Power said after tai chi. “If you told the average citizen of Salt Lake that there’s going to be 50 homeless people somewhere, they’d be like ‘Oh my God! They’re going to set fire to the place.’ But they’re not right.”


    (Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Greg Power leads members of the unsheltered community in tai chi. He has been attending four days a week for the last five years.

    Participants complete a round of stretches before leading into two tai chi sequences, consisting of about 70 motions. Some people have the moves memorized, like Power. He says it took him all of a month to learn them.

    When the group completes a sequence, they clap and cheer briefly before swiftly moving on to the next one. Once the sequences are done, everyone huddles together in a big circle to finish off the session with breathing exercises. They come together organically.

    “It’s like a symphony,” Lisa Hyte said, a recent newcomer who helps brew the coffee and cook the breakfast burritos for tai chi in the mornings.

    Hyte, who attends the First Unitarian Church with the Harts, said she was inspired by the selflessness and the transformations she sees it make for the street community. She wanted to get involved. So, together, they got the church to let them use the kitchen four days a week to prepare the food and coffee for tai chi.

    “[SLC Street Tai Chi] is reaching out to the community, social justice and healing,” Hyte said. “It’s just moments of magic around here.”


    (Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Once the tai chi sequences are done, everyone huddles together in a big circle to finish off the session with breathing exercises.

    It’s true, according to Power. He’s witnessed the same in other street community members that join in on the exercises. He’s experienced the transformation Hyte describes, although he won’t talk about it because he says it’s not about him, it’s about community.

    “It’s about getting people moving. It gives structure and purpose,” Power said. “And it’s **** good for the homeless.”

    The transformation beyond the quad
    It was a frigid Utah morning when Bernie and Marita first met Mohammed Elamin. Elamin was wrapped in a blanket on the streets with no shoes on, Bernie recalls. Originally from Sudan, Elamin moved to Utah in 2003 as a refugee.

    He didn’t know a thing about tai chi but watched the sessions happen at the library quad for a while before joining the crowd himself. It only took one session for Elamin. He’s been an avid participant for years now.

    “I feel a lot clearer and I’m physically doing good,” Elamin said, gesturing to his head and torso. “It’s held me together, especially on my off days.”


    (Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) “It’s about getting people moving. It gives structure and purpose,” said Greg Power.

    Before Maria Humphrey became a regular at tai chi, she was surviving at The Road Home after being discharged from the hospital for trying to take her own life. She didn’t have any other place to go.

    Things started to change when she met Bernie outside The Road Home four years ago. She was sitting on a bench when Bernie approached her and invited her to join tai chi with Marita and the group.

    “They were the first ones that said my name,” Humphrey said, “which does your mental health a heckuva lot because when you’re homeless, you’re not a name.”

    A research project presented at the 2022 Utah Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters by Salt Lake Community College student Kambry Woodbury, found 68% of tai chi participants experienced suicidal thoughts. The project also highlighted the reason people show up to tai chi, including friendship, structure, improved mental health and comradery.

    And to Bernie’s knowledge, not a single person has died by suicide since starting the program.

    Unfortunately, it’s the only research done on the program. However, the Harts wish that wasn’t the case.

    They’ve reached out to several research intuitions, including the University of Utah and the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, in an effort to collect concrete data about the positive impact the program is having. The Harts also attempted to reach out to the city and state about their program. No bite.

    They believe they aren’t taken seriously by large-scale research centers because there’s no data to match the lived experience piece.

    “You can’t talk about ideas if they’re new without data,” Bernie said. “We really need somebody from the system that wants success for this group, rather than to maintain the status quo.

    “In the meantime, we’re trying to demonstrate that what we’re doing is helping people, so that people get curious about what we’re doing.”


    (Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) “I have more confidence. I believe that if I want something, I can get it,” said Maria Humphrey. “And I know if things get bad, they’ll be there at the library.”

    For Humphrey, the simple act of the Harts calling her by name was a game-changer. Through tai chi, she discovered her inner strength, a robust community and most of all, confidence.

    “It taught me to speak,” Humphrey said, “and made me feel like a person again.”

    If Humphrey could let the city and state know one thing, it’s that tai chi works. She would like to see leaders and behavioral health facilities get involved in the tai chi program.

    With the confidence and motivation tai chi gave her, she was able to leave the shelter and find permanent housing.

    When she first moved into her own place, she was nervous. Murphey says she’d never worked with electric appliances before. But Bernie and Marita came over, helped her set up her own space and turned her apartment into a home.

    Most importantly, Humphrey hasn’t returned to the same headspace she was in when she was admitted to the hospital.

    She looks forward to seeing her friends. She says everyone who attends tai chi looks out for each other. They have one another’s back.

    “I have more confidence. I believe that if I want something, I can get it,” Humphrey said. “And I know if things get bad, they’ll be there at the library.”
    Inspirational
    Gene Ching
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    Author of Shaolin Trips
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