Nazareth College student and 11-year Army veteran, Jay Rivera, assisting a guest.
Nazareth College student and 11-year Army veteran, Jay Rivera, assisting a guest.

On any given day Rochester, NY has about 700 individuals who are homeless, and hundreds more who are unstably housed. Partnerships between universities and communities can be powerful tools for addressing homelessness and related problems. Professors in Nazareth College’s Department of Social Work, located in Rochester and an affiliate of the National Center, collaborate with local service providers to support an annual Project Homeless Connect (PHC) event.

The PHC model was designed to end homelessness through improving service access and volunteer engagement. The model was developed in San Francisco as a way to bring service providers and the homeless or near homeless together by hosting events in large municipal facilities easily accessible by potential clients. PHC events connect consumers (referred to as “guests”) to services that may otherwise not be easily and immediately accessible, such as dental care, medical services, eye care, housing information, benefit applications, and legal advocacy. These events are used as a way to connect guests to needed services so they have better outcomes and use fewer high cost-services.

A collaborative group of providers in Rochester has hosted four PHC events thus far. Students from local social work programs volunteer their time, and numerous faculty have developed service-learning assignments to tap into the learning that is afforded by this important community wide project. Specifically, two of Nazareth College’s social work professors are greatly involved in supporting PHC events.

Associate Professor Jed Metzger assisting a guest.

Jed Metzger, Associate Professor, coordinates volunteers for the event and recruits students from local social work programs, making Project Homeless Connect a day of service. Each social work student (as well as some outstanding AmeriCorps volunteers) is trained and then paired with a PHC guest.

Leanne Wood Charlesworth, Program Director of the Nazareth College BSW program, has long been interested in homelessness research and service, and recently carried out a photovoice project that provided cameras to individuals to document their lived experience as they faced homelessness. Dr. Charlesworth provides data collection leadership at the PHC events. Her social work research class is a service learning course; the students develop and administer PHC entrance and exit surveys with guests. Guided by Dr. Charlesworth, students analyze the data and present findings to the community and planning team to inform future PHC events.

The fifth Project Homeless Connect in Rochester, NY was held on September 15th and is seen by organizers as another powerful success. Data is still being analyzed, but over 700 guests came to the event with roughly 48% of those guests fitting the federal definition of homeless on that day. Exit surveys with guests support the idea that obtaining all the services they need in a single day at a single location is just plain better for them. Identification services were cited as the most immediately helpful, followed by medical and legal services. The organizers are also thrilled that the consistent outreach resulted in representation from every school of social work in the Greater Rochester Area, as Roberts Wesleyan participated for the first time. The College at Brockport increased their participation and brought two school busloads of social worker student volunteers. Nazareth College continues to have nearly 100% of all BSW and MSW (the MSW students are also students at the College of Brockport) in attendance. Through the use of video technology, all were able to be trained, and this increased the ability of the volunteers to respond effectively. Given the success of Project Homeless Connect, the organizers will try to hold mini PHC events three times a year. This will be done through a new not-for-profit that was started by some former MSW students who have gone on to make working with the homeless their practice specialty.

For more on Project Homeless Connect, click here.

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead at the National Center
Special thanks to Leanne Wood Charlesworth and Jed Metzger for contributing content. Photos courtesy of Nazareth College.

Did you like this post? If so, you may like this one on the UBuffalo School of Social Work.

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