“I love being a caregiver — but living in Oakland means living paycheck to paycheck.”
For Oakland home care provider Juliann Coulter, caregiving is a labor of love. She’s done it for decades. She first got her start as a caregiver in the early 1990s, caring for her mother-in-law, who lived with osteoporosis. The experience of providing care inspired Juliann to really see caregiving as a profession. After helping her mother-in-law get stronger, Juliann took a break from caregiving, had more children, and proceeded to work various retail jobs. But she never stopped dreaming of being a caregiver.
After she had her last child, Juliann went back to being a care provider in Oakland. This time, it was for two older adults who lived in her building. One recipient had mesothelioma and the other had heart problems and high blood pressure. Juliann grew to love them. She found real, true joy in making other people feel happy, safe and secure.
Sadly, Juliann’s mesothelioma recipient died of the disease, and the other recipient’s conditions worsened to the point where she needed round-the-clock care and had to be moved into a nursing home facility.
“Those times were tough for me, I really connected with my clients.”
To get past her sadness, Juliann found another care recipient to pour all of her energy into: her cousin, Lynette Hubbard, who has hip issues that affect her mobility as well as mental health issues, including severe depression after losing a son to gun violence (more on that below). Juliann read up on caregiving before she began taking care of her cousin and looked to our union for training to feel confident and ready to start her care profession.
Training for the profession.
Juliann had access to comprehensive free training through her union’s partner education program, the Center for Caregiver Advancement. There, Juliann learned essential skills needed to provide the quality care for her cousin. She learned the nuances of caring for recipients with cognitive impairments who may also have behavioral as well as mental health issues. The mental health courses really helped Juliann to meet Lynette’s needs.
“I liked the courses offered because it showed me skills to care for recipients with dementia, aphasia, mental health, and stress as well as cooking healthy meals and properly documenting medical updates of my recipient. It was a great way to improve my understanding of cognitive impairments and learn skills to help care for recipients in my professional care career.”
Juliann finished her CCA classes back in January of 2020.
Gun Violence and tragedy.
Lynette’s son, a victim of gun violence, was caught in a drive-by shooting as he was walking around his neighborhood. It took his life. It decimated Juliann’s entire family — Lynette, especially. It was, of course, absolutely heartbreaking and debilitating for Lynette. There were days when Juliann had to talk Lynette into just rolling out of bed and having a meal. For a time, Lynette’s depression was so bad that, had Juliann not been around, she would have ignored her physical health entirely. Thankfully, Juliann was around, and she stepped up to provide Lynette with both physical assistance due to her mobility needs and emotional support. Today, Lynette is doing much better and takes it day by day.
“In a society that seems to not care enough about caregivers, making ends meet is hard.”
Juliann is a loving care provider and a strong woman, but she’s still human. She feels the burden of not making enough money to survive in a constantly fluctuating economy. Sometimes, it makes her feel unappreciated by society.
“People don’t know our value because we’re in the home and out of public view. Most of us have to work at least two jobs to live. Food prices are really high right now. Gas is high too. We need an increase in wages to not have to struggle so much.”
Currently, Juliann is making $18.10 an hour. In a place as expensive as Alameda county, that’s not enough to survive. She doesn’t even have money for the little things, like buying small toys for her grandchildren and groceries each week. Right now, the stress around her renter’s insurance is so high that she has to budget for every little thing, and it’s barely enough to get by. Instead, Juliann has to work a second job as a caterer to be able to pay the bills each month. Her family used to own a soul food restaurant in San Francisco, but it closed in 2013. Juliann retained her culinary talent, and uses it to make ends meet. Juliann feels as though caregivers should be making at least $20 an hour given the high cost of living in Alameda County.
“If I got a pay raise to $20 an hour, life would be a little better, but not much. With prices the way they are now, we actually need $25. Honestly, $25 dollars might as well be minimum wage. I’m living paycheck to paycheck, and that’s even with working my second job as a caterer.”
Juliann remains optimistic, although the money from her second job helps to pay rent and utilities, it also doesn’t help that the Bay Area gentrification is driving up rent prices each year. She feels one day she might be able to own a home if there were significant changes to bring home care providers a living wage.
Juliann’s hopes for the future.
In the future, Juliann wants a living wage that can keep a roof over her head and be able to continue her caregiving work as a professional without worrying about survival. She hopes to receive more training opportunities and to keep evolving in her care profession.
“I want to continue caring for those in need, it’s my passion. I hope changes to our low wages in my industry improve in the future not only for myself, but for future care providers yet to come. I’d like to see soon a statewide contract that would give us all better health benefits, vacation, and more time for paid sick leave and retirement. Most importantly, we as caregivers need a real living wage.”
“Life isn’t perfect… but quality care makes it better.”
Alameda County IHSS recipient Lynette Hubbard considers herself fortunate to have not just a cousin who cares for her well being, but a caregiver willing to go above and beyond — a caregiver like Juliann. Lynette and Juliann have known one another all their lives. Even before Juliann began taking care of Lynette full time, the two were very close. They’ve always been there for each other in the best of times and worst. It’s a loving, patient relationship. Lynette and Juliann are closer to being sisters than cousins.
A boy shot down.
After Lynette’s son died in a drive-by shooting, the emotional impact caused severe depression. Lynette doesn’t care to recall the time; it’s a painful, traumatic memory that never truly healed. But it was because of Juliann that Lynette kept pushing on ever since that tragedy. Juliann encouraged Lynette to live life to the fullest, even if a piece of her heart was missing. So, Lynette fights to keep on living, day in and day out. Some days are harder than others, but with Juliann by her side, Lynette manages to find some peace in her life again.
Lynette’s frustration around the healthcare system.
While Lynette is indeed happy to have Juliann as her caregiver, she’s not satisfied with the overall healthcare system. From Lynette’s, the healthcare system is not built for everyday people. And from what she’s seen, only a privileged few are able to get the most out of the system.
“Unless you’re rich, it doesn’t work for you the way it should. I’m just lucky to have Juliann. She helps me navigate all that mess. I often feel overlooked by hospitals in general. The system is designed to work in favor of those who can afford the best treatments and doctors, not necessarily those who need things the most.”
Lynette also takes issue with the way that caregivers are treated by the system. Lynette feels caregivers should be paid at least livable wages for the valued work that they do each day on the job.
“Juliann works too hard to be getting treated the way that she does. I know she deserves more, and it’s often frustrating to know that she’s barely making ends meet each month, something needs to give.”
Lynette’s solutions to an industry in crisis.
Lynette doesn’t consider herself particularly political, but she feels like the right legislation would help to improve the system and make it one that actually serves the people it is meant to. Policymakers at all levels of government need to start doing right before the care crisis becomes more out of control than it currently is. Lynette wants to see more politicians involved in helping to fix the current care system and address community needs, beyond just fixing the occasional pothole. But she also wants more civic engagement from people in general.
For Lynette, she knows that being active in the community is needed for drastic changes to happen. It’s the reason why she stands with the Juliann’s union.
“I dislike how uninvolved people can be about politics, especially since politics usually affects almost every aspect of a person’s life to some degree or another; ranging from how much one pays in taxes to how they are represented within local and national legislative bodies.”
That’s why Lynette is so proud of Juliann’s involvement with SEIU Local 2015. Lynette says that the Union is intensely political and constantly lobbying for improvements on a statewide level and hopes to see changes all across the state. She supports the Our Care Counts (AB 1672) campaign in California right now, which will allow caregivers like Juliann to use their collective power to bring improvements to home care.