The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work, a National Center partner school, has effectively used partnerships with local service agencies to develop and implement several homelessness-related projects. In addition to more traditional research, evaluation, and consulting efforts, faculty at the school have used these university-community partnerships to create community-base learning opportunities for students. Community-based learning teaches students about homelessness while also advancing the goal of ending homelessness. Additionally, such projects can enhance the learning experience and help students translate the abstract concepts and theories discussed in class into meaningful and practical applications for improving the quality of life in their community. Three recent examples are provided below to serve as inspiration for other schools of social work.

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Students visiting new homeless community in Travis county called Community First!

Example 1: Supporting Point-In-Time Count Planning
Community-Based Agency: Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), which serves at the lead agency for the Austin/Travis County Continuum of Care.

Description: Dr. Calvin Streeter is a member of ECHO’s Board of Directors and has led several class projects with the organization. Most recently, a Dynamics of Organizations and Communities class canvassed areas outside ECHO’s normal Point-in-Time Count (PIT) geographic area to determine where there might be homeless camps that ECHO does not yet know about. Students documented the process they used, including how they found locations, and produced maps identifying key areas where homeless people may be found. The purpose of this project was to help ECHO prepare for the 2016 PIT count by providing information that could be used when deciding where to expand its count area to better capture the number of people experiencing homelessness in the county.

Example 2: Researching City Council Candidates and Districts
Community-Based Agency: Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), which serves at the lead agency for the Austin/Travis County Continuum of Care.

Description: Dr. Calvin Streeter and another of his Dynamics of Organizations and Communities class worked with ECHO to gather information about each of Austin’s City Council districts and the candidates running in each district prior to a recent election. Students mapped Point-In-Time data for Austin/Travis County to the 10 City Council Districts, to help educate candidates about the homeless population living in their district, and a factsheet with data on Austin/Travis county as a whole and on each of the 10 City Council Districts.

Example 1: Creating Social Justice Themed Documentaries
Community-Based Agency: Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH). ARCH provides emergency shelter, case management, housing programs, and other services.

Description: Dr. Miguel Ferguson teaches his BSW students about homelessness through a partnership with ARCH. The class goes on on a field trip to ARCH. Students complete 10 hours of community service during the semester; many students complete these hours at ARCH. Students are also required to create a short documentary about a social justice issue and, typically, over half of students choose homelessness as their topic. For these documentaries, students commonly interview homeless individuals, service providers, and SSW faculty about the topic.

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead

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