Originally from Dallas, Texas, Yesenia Mejia (they, them) moved to the East Coast to pursue higher education at Dartmouth and joined Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program as an AmeriCorps Fellow after graduating in 2018. Since then, they have taken on several different roles within our organization. Currently, Yesenia divides their work hours between the dual roles of Program Coordinator for the Transgender Services and Program Assistant for the BHCHP Oasis Clinic, our multicultural immigrant-friendly clinic for people experiencing homelessness. What prompted Yesenia to consider working for BHCHP? Let’s find out.
Back in college, Yesenia became engaged with various organizing efforts related to immigrant rights. Having grown up in a mixed status family and personally witnessing the ramifications of our country’s unequal immigration system, their dedication to this work came naturally and with much passion. One summer, they interned at an immigration legal services center in Los Angeles where they often conducted declaration interviews with survivors of violence who were applying for immigration relief. Doing this work helped Yesenia realize that a future career in the legal field didn’t feel right. Instead, after college, they pivoted to find opportunities that demonstrated more direct care and compassion towards immigrants as they were navigating the harsh realities of their present circumstances. This led them to become the first AmeriCorps Fellow to work with BHCHP’s Immigrant Health Committee (IHC), a staff group dedicated to advancing health equity goals for our immigrant patients. Maggie Sullivan, a nurse practitioner who directs the Oasis Clinic remarks that Yesenia “created the blueprint for how the role [AmeriCorps position] exists today” and is an “indispensable member of the Immigrant Health Team.”
In addition to their work with the Oasis Clinic, most of Yesenia’s days at work revolve around their responsibilities with the Transgender Program. Since 2008, BHCHP has run a weekly transgender patient support group, offering a space for transgender people experiencing homelessness to connect with and support one another. The Transgender Program also includes case management services, event planning, and collaborating with other community organizations. Since the month of June celebrates Pride month, Yesenia had much to say about their experience at work. “Honestly, there is a lot of joy especially during Pride month! The elders in our cohort are invaluable by offering words of affirmation and their knowledge to others who are starting out their transition. I am so grateful that I get to witness that exchange of love.” Although there is much to celebrate and rejoice in, Yesenia acknowledges the many challenges in their work due to the rise of anti-trans and anti-immigrant policies and practices across the country. At times, they can feel overwhelmed supporting our patients, but Yesenia focuses on “revolutionary optimism” knowing the critical importance of the work supporting oppressed people, regardless of the broader political situation.
“Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows that I am a student of social movements. If anything, my work here has intensified my belief that homelessness is caused by a superstructure that disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, Trans, and people of color.” Nearly five years into their journey with BHCHP, Yesenia continues to find creative ways to advocate for their patients. A few months ago, they became one of the finalists for the Boston University Refugee Challenge winning a $3,000 award to support the growth of our pro-bono services to asylum seekers in our community. And more recently, Yesenia presented at the 2023 National Health Care for the Homeless Council Conference with other BHCHP staff on the impact of encampment sweeps on public health, safety, and substance use among our patients. Outside of work, they are currently earning their Master of Social Work degree at Boston University. Equipped with a new set of tools and skillsets, they look forward to offering trauma-informed behavioral health services to immigrants and trans/gender-expansive people in the coming years.