Grand Challenge #5: Ending Homelessness

The NASW Code of Ethics prioritizes disadvantaged populations, yet the social work profession could do much more in response to homelessness. A major goal of the National Center is to prioritize homelessness in the social work profession, which is the primary aim of our National Homelessness Social Work Initiative. Thus, we were delighted that the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare has identified ending homelessness as one of its twelve Grand Challenges for Social Work and to see that the 2016 Society for Social Work Research Conference focus is, “Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future.”

The Grand Challenge of Ending Homelessness concept paper was written collaboratively by a number of homelessness experts, including several faculty from schools of social work affiliated with the National Center. Among other things, the paper articulates a powerful argument for why homelessness can be significantly reduced, if not eradicated, within the next decade. The authors urge the field to build on recent downward trends observed for chronic, veteran, and overall homelessness rates. While they note that the existence of effective and evidence-based strategies varies by type of homelessness in question, it is clear that we are no longer in a position of not knowing what to do about homelessness. Additionally, we are better able than ever before to support and track efforts and progress at the local, state, and federal levels.

The concept paper does not stop at simply suggesting that the field rely on existing strategies; it encourages efforts to strengthen and expand them. The authors note significant opportunities for interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration. For example, limited government budgets continue to require partnerships between public, private, non-profit, and faith-based sectors to support effective programs and services. There are also numerous opportunities for social work to collaborate with other disciplines, such as medicine, education, technical fields, and engineering. One such opportunity is for the profession to work with the health care system to leverage new resources available under Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act to support services, such as supportive housing efforts, which was the focus of a previous white paper and blog post by the National Center.

Lastly, there remain opportunities to fill knowledge gaps and to disseminate and translate research to practice. These tasks require significant innovation. In brief, the concept paper highlights a selection of areas in need of further attention: 1) counting and understanding the experience of homeless youth; 2) more rigorously testing housing interventions; 3) understanding connections between homelessness and other systems, such as foster care, incarceration, and health care; 4) identifying and disseminating evidence-based practices for ending homelessness; and 5) bringing to scale existing effective strategies.

The Grand Challenge of Ending Homelessness is an exciting addition to this important initiative, and the National Center is excited to see homelessness brought to the forefront in the profession.

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead at the National Center

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Dr. Rashida Crutchfield Leads Project to Understand Housing and Food Insecurity Among California State University Students

Some research proposals develop over the course of many months, even years, and involve numerous iterations and reviews before being funded. Others are completed in less than 36 hours after receiving an email from your school’s Provost. The latter example is how Rashida Crutchfield, Assistant Professor of Social Work at California State University – Long Beach (CSULB), became the PI for a new study looking at the prevalence and needs of displaced students across CSU’s 23 campuses. The project was inspired by a local news story featuring a CSULB undergraduate student who has dealt with homelessness and other problems throughout his life and education – just one example of the many college students who face housing instability and food insecurity across the country.

The project, titled Best Practices Serving Displaced and Food-Insecure Students in the CSU, involves interviews and focus groups with school staff and administrators, and a student survey. In addition to Dr. Crutchfield, the work is supported by graduate student assistants from the School of Social Work. The final product will be a report that describes current formal and informal services and supports offered to students experiencing food and housing instability, and provides data-driven recommendations for best practices for CSU campuses.

This project is an excellent example of how schools of social work can serve as an important resource and tool in the effort to understand and address homelessness in the community. Not only will this project benefit CSU’s understanding of its response to food insecurity and housing instability among its students, it will add to our understanding of the prevalence and needs of this population. Further, it has the potential to serve as a model for other schools to conduct similar inquiries.

For more information contact Rashida Crutchfield (rashida.crutchfield@csulb.edu).

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead at the National Center
Special thanks to Rashida Crutchfield for contributing to the content of this blog post.

Silberman School of Social Work Launches Center for the Advancement of Critical Time Intervention

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The Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York City, an affiliate of the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services, has launched the Center for the Advancement of Critical Time Intervention. The Center aims to coordinate and mobilize the efforts of providers, trainers, researchers, and funders to promote uptake of Critical Time Intervention (CTI) through ongoing collaboration, information sharing, advocacy, and research.

CTI is an empirically supported, time-limited, case management model designed to prevent homelessness and foster recovery among vulnerable people during periods of significant transition. During such periods, which may include both the move from an institution to the community as well as the transition from homelessness to housing, people often have difficulty re-establishing themselves with access to needed supports. CTI works in two main ways: by providing direct emotional and practical assistance during the critical time of transition and by strengthening the individual’s ties to services and ongoing social supports. Despite its time-limited approach, CTI aims to exert a long-term impact through building enduring connections to sources of support that will remain in place after the intervention ends.

Originally developed with significant support from the National Institute of Mental Health, CTI has been subjected to numerous tests of its impact, including multiple randomized trials. On the strength of this evidence, CTI is listed in SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Policies and Programs and the Best Practices Portal of the Public Health Agency of Canada. The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy recently recognized the model as meeting its most rigorous “top tier” standard as an intervention “shown in well-designed and implemented randomized controlled trials, preferably conducted in typical community settings, to produce sizable, sustained benefits to participants and/or society.”

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Dan Herman, Professor and Director of the Center for the Advancement of CTI

Professor Daniel Herman, who has been leading research and dissemination activities related to CTI for the past decade, directs the Center. “We are very excited to finally have a ‘home base’ for the model, which we can use to help build capacity among providers to effectively adapt and implement CTI with a variety of populations at high risk of homelessness and other adverse outcomes,” Herman says. “We look forward to working with members of the National Center to build interest in CTI in social work schools nationally and the community agencies they work with.”

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead at the National Center
Special thanks to Dan Herman for contributing to the content of this blog post.