We feature a lot of our partner schools’ community-based collaborations and service learning activities on this blog, but our faculty contacts are also leading homelessness scholars. This blog post features just 10 of the peer-reviewed journal articles published in 2018 by homelessness researchers at our partner schools. These publications cover a range of topics related to homeless youth and adults, permanent supportive housing, and homeless service provision. Consider adding one of these to your course syllabi this semester. And, if you’re looking for additional readings, check out our curriculum resource page.
Aykanian, A. (2018). Service and policy considerations when working with highly mobile homeless youth: Perspectives from the frontlines. Children and Youth Services Review, 84, 9-16. Read more here.
Bender, K., Begun, S., Dunn, K., Mackay, E., & Dechants, J. (2018). Homeless youths’ interests in social action via photovoice.Journal of Community Practice, 26(1), 107-120. Read more here.
Crutchfield, R. (2018). Under a temporary roof and in the classroom: Service agencies for youth who are homeless while enrolled in community college.Child and Youth Services. Read more here.
Henwood, B., Lahey, J., Harris, T., Rhoades, H., & Wenzel, S. (2018). Understanding risk environments in permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless adults. Qualitative Health Research. Read more here.
Lee, W., & Plitt Donaldson, L. (2018). Street outreach workers’ understanding and experience of working with chronically homeless populations. Journal of Poverty. Read more here.
Piat, M., Sabetti, J., & Padgett, D. (2018). Supported housing for adults with psychiatric disabilities: How tenants confront the problem of loneliness.Health and Social Care in the Community, 26(2), 191-198. Read more here.
Narendorf, S. C., Bowen, E., Santa Maria, D., & Thibaudeau, E. (2018). Risk and resilience among young adults experiencing homelessness: A typology for service planning.Children and Youth Services Review, 86, 157-165. Read more here.
Rhoades, H., La Motte-Kerr, W., Duan, L., Woo, D., Rice, E., Henwood, B., Harris, T., & Wenzel, S. (2018). Social networks and substance use after transitioning into permanent supportive housing. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 191(1), 63-69. Read more here.
Tiderington, E. (2018). “The apartment is for you, it’s not for anyone else”: Managing social recovery and risk on the frontlines of single-adult supportive housing. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 45(1), 152-162. Read more here.
Wagamann, M. A., Shelton, J., & Carter, R. (2018). Queering the social work classroom: Strategies for increasing the inclusion of LGBTQ persons and experiences. Journal of Teaching Social Work, 38(2), 166-182. Read more here.
While peer-reviewed articles are typically not publicly available, you can obtain full-text copies of any article by contacting the author(s).
This post was written by Leanne Charlesworth and Jed Metzger, faculty in the Nazareth College Department of Social Work.
Project Homeless Connect Rochester (PHCR) began in 2009 as a volunteer-driven annual event dedicated to connecting homeless individuals and families to housing and other critical resources. Modeled after San Francisco’s Project Homeless Connect (https://www.projecthomelessconnect.org/), the explicit mission of PCHR is to “rally the city to support and create lasting solutions for homeless Rochesterians” (see http://www.homelessconnectrochester.org/about.php).
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, many low-income households face risk of homelessness due to the lack of affordable housing in their communities. Doubling-up with family and friends is one of the most common living situations just prior to experiencing homelessness.
According to nation-wide Point in Time Count data:
Most people experiencing homelessness are living in some form of transitional housing or shelter; approximately one-third are living in a place not meant for human habitation (e.g., outdoors).
Veterans comprise less than 10% of the homeless population. According to the Center for Evidence-Based Solutions to Homelessness, the homeless veteran population in the U.S. has steadily declined over the last few decades.
Chronically homeless adults, homeless families with children, and homeless youth are groups in need of particular attention in terms of meeting housing and service needs.
PHCR entrance interviews conducted by Nazareth College social work student volunteers (pictured right) indicate the one-stop venue serves approximately 700 individuals and families annually. Each year, about half of PHCR guests report they did not sleep in their own home on the night prior to the event; some slept with friends and family members, some slept in shelters, and some slept on the street. And, approximately half of those who slept in their own homes face the threat of eviction within three weeks.
PHCR guests roughly reflect nationwide homelessness figures. The racial and ethnic backgrounds of guests vary widely, and women and men are almost equally represented.
Following is information about the guests served by PHCR in 2017 according to completed entrance interviews:
Most were men (57.1%, n=349)
More than half were African American (54.7%, n=341)
Approximately 1 in 10 identified as Hispanic or Latino (11.4%, n=71)
Approximately 1 in 10 identified as a veteran (9.9%, n=58)
The average age was 44 (with ages ranging from 15 to 85)
Primary reasons for attending PCHR were to obtain identification, winter clothing, and linkages to services, such as housing and employment resources
As guests left PCHR, they reported high levels of satisfaction with the volunteers and the spirit of the event. Approximately 439 individuals completed a voluntary exit survey in 2017. The majority (85%, n=375) found participating in PHCR very helpful and 88% (n=389) stated that the event helped connect them to the services they needed.
As we approach its 10th anniversary, PHCR continues to be organized and implemented by a community-wide team of agency representatives and volunteers. The Nazareth College Department of Social Work plays a critical role within this team. Faculty members Jed Metzger and Leanne Charlesworth attend the PHCR Planning Committee’s monthly meetings, reviewing annual event data, and work collaboratively toward continuous improvement. Current efforts are focused on refining service provider and volunteer training prior to the event and during orientation on the day of the event.
Nazareth College BSW and MSW students comprise the majority of PHCR volunteers, serving as either entrance interviewers or guest escorts. Student roles are tied to diverse service learning assignments specific to distinct social work courses across the curriculum. Observing that many social work students repeatedly volunteer at PCHR during their years in the undergraduate and graduate social work programs, Metzger and Charlesworth have seized this opportunity to initiate scaffolding of student volunteers. During the upcoming fall 2018 event, seasoned social work students will mentor students new to the event, providing shadowing experiences and serving as a mobile help desk during the event.
Although all Nazareth College social work faculty members have supported PCHR since its inception, the role of additional social work faculty in orienting and directing student volunteers has become more integral to successful PCHR implementation in recent years. The scope of Nazareth College student and faculty volunteers has also expanded significantly to address the need for (ASL and Spanish) interpretation services, a stream-lined resource (e.g., coat, toiletry) distribution system, and transportation.
As PCHR grows in scope and presence within the Rochester community, the PHCR Planning Committee is working to ensure all service providers understand the goals of the event. New strategies have been identified to communicate with participating agencies including the design of an online training tool for service providers. The goal is strengthened connections with critical partners, such as county departments, shelter directors, and other academic departments within a range of institutions of higher education.
PHCR offers a few suggestions to other communities considering their own Project Homeless Connect:
Collaborate with local government officials
A host site at a large central venue is essential
Enlist leaders from critical sectors across the local academic, government, and service communities
Emphasize same-day service and resource provision rather than referrals
The next PHCR event will be held on September 13, 2018. Stay tuned for Rochester updates via homelessconnectrochester.org. Below are pictures that capture the venue and check-in process.
Project Homeless Connect Rochester Project Homeless Connect Rochester (PHCR) began in 2009 as a volunteer-driven annual event dedicated to connecting homeless individuals and families to housing and other critical resources. Modeled after San Francisco’s Project Homeless Connect, the explicit mission of PCHR is to “rally the city to support and create lasting solutions for homeless Rochesterians”.
PHCR entrance interviews conducted by Nazareth College social work students indicate the “one stop” venue serves approximately 700 individuals and families annually. Each year, about half of PHCR guests report that they did not sleep in their own home on the night prior to the event – some slept with friends and family members, some slept in shelters, and some slept on the street. Approximately half of those who slept in their own homes face the threat of eviction within three weeks.
Many low-income households face risk of homelessness due to the lack of affordable housing in their communities.
“Doubling-up” with family and friends is one of the most common living situations just prior to experiencing homelessness.
The majority of the population experiencing homelessness is living in some form of transitional housing or shelter; approximately one-third are living in a place not meant for human habitation.
Veterans comprise less than 10% of the homeless population. The homeless veteran population in the U.S. has steadily declined over the last few decades.
Chronically homeless individuals and families often have particularly complex needs.
In 2017, PHCR guests roughly reflected nationwide homelessness figures:
More men (57%) than women completed entrance interviews.
More African-American individuals (55%) than other racial groups completed entrance interviews.
Approximately one in ten was Hispanic or Latino.
Approximately one in 10 guests was a veteran.
Age varied from teens to elderly individuals, with middle-aged adults most heavily represented. The average age of those completing entrance interviews was 44, with self-reported ages ranging from 15 to 85.
Pictured right is guests being checked-in to the PHCR event. Guests report their primary reasons for attending PHCR are concrete: to obtain identification, winter clothing, and linkages to services, such as housing and employment resources.
As guests leave PHCR, they report high levels of satisfaction with the volunteers and the spirit of the PHCR event as a whole. Approximately 439 individuals completed a voluntary exit survey in 2017. The vast majority (85%) found participating in PHCR very helpful and 88% stated that the event helped connect them to the services they needed.
Planning for the 10th Annual PHCR
As it approaches its 10th anniversary, PHCR continues to be organized and implemented by a community-wide team of agency representatives and volunteers. The Nazareth College Department of Social Work plays a critical role within this team. Faculty members Jed Metzger and Leanne Charlesworth attend the PHCR Planning Committee’s monthly meetings, reviewing annual event data and working collaboratively toward continuous improvement. Current efforts are focused on refining service provider and volunteer training prior to the event and orientation on the day of the event.
Pictured left is a PHCR student volunteer. Nazareth College BSW and MSW students comprise the majority of PHCR volunteers, serving as either entrance/exit interviewers or guest escorts. Student roles are tied to diverse service learning assignments specific to distinct social work courses across the curriculum. Observing that many social work students repeatedly volunteer at PCHR during their years in the undergraduate and graduate social work programs, Metzger and Charlesworth have seized this opportunity to initiate scaffolding of student volunteers. During the upcoming fall 2018 event, seasoned social work students will mentor students new to the event, providing shadowing experiences and serving as a mobile “help desk” during the event.
Although all Nazareth College social work faculty members have supported PHCR since its inception, the role of additional social work faculty in orienting and directing student volunteers has become more integral to successful PHCR implementation in recent years. The scope of Nazareth College student and faculty volunteers has also expanded significantly to address the need for (ASL and Spanish) interpretation services, a stream-lined resource (e.g., coats, toiletries) distribution system, and transportation.
As PCHR grows in scope and presence within the Rochester community, the PHCR Planning Committee is working to ensure all service providers understand the goals of the event. New strategies have been identified to communicate with participating agencies including the design of an online training tool for service providers. The goal is strengthened connections to critical partners, such as county departments, shelter directors, and academic departments within other institutions of higher education.
Suggestions for Communities Interested in Hosting a PHC
PHCR offers a few suggestions to others considering development of their own Project Homeless Connect:
Collaborate with local government officials.
Secure a host site. A large, central venue is essential.
Enlist leaders from critical sectors across the local academic, government, and service communities.
Emphasize same-day service and resource provision rather than referrals.
The next PHCR event will be held on September 13, 2018. Stay tuned for Rochester updates via homelessconnectrochester.org.
Blog Post Authors: Leanne Charlesworth and Jed Metzger, Professors of Social Work at Nazareth College.
This post was written by Mar Kidvai Padilla, an MSSW Candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.
People experiencing homelessness are daily faced with meeting immediate survival needs and coping with the impacts of trauma and illness, both physical and mental, that can escalate into a state of crisis. The social workers providing services to clients experiencing homelessness at Integral Care, where I am completing my first-year internship as an MSSW student at the University of Texas at Austin, show deep empathy and a clear sense that our clients face unnecessary barriers and injustices as they seek permanent housing.
As social workers, we often use a macro perspective to analyze the connections between individual hardships faced by clients and the implementation of local policy, such as Austin’s No Sit No Lie Ordinance that criminalizes resting or sleeping on sidewalks, benches, and in parks. Some of us correlate our specific work and policy advocacy to a larger abstract project of ending homelessness. However, very few of us can articulate our personal vision of housing justice, even as we may understand ourselves to be working shoulder to shoulder with other professionals trying to achieve it.
As an educator and organizer, I know that a shared vision of social justice cannot be taken for granted. Without vision, no accountability between client and social worker can exist, no tactics or strategy can be formulated, and no evaluation of our efforts is possible. As scholar and activist Gloria E. Anzaldúa asserts, “Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”
Thus, we must engage in critical conversations and ask each other:
What does a world in which all people are housed look and feel like?
What is the global history of housing justice and what markers of our success can we use to assess our progress here and now in late capitalism?
What does it say about our society that some people, often disabled individuals and survivors of trauma, are denied housing?
How can we eliminate (rather than bandage) the power dynamics that produce housing crises for Black and brown clients at the intersection of multiple oppressions?
To this end, I am planning a workshop for my Macro Field Project to be delivered at Integral Care’s annual Dynamic Development Day (DDD). The session, titled Housing as a Human Right: Exploring Our Visions of Justice, will offer service providers space and time to discuss our ideals, collectively analyze the history of housing rights, and compare housing data and social movements transnationally. Proposing and having the workshop accepted for DDD was exciting, but I recognize, of course, that no vision of housing justice is possible without the centering of people experiencing homelessness. Our theory of change must integrate the understandings and visions of the people most directly affected, so I decided to pilot some of my workshop in the women’s support group I co-facilitate at the Trinity Center, which provides services to people experiencing homelessness.
Introducing the 1970s feminist consciousness-raising groups as a model, I asked clients:
Why do people become homeless?
What does homelessness say about our society?
What are the differences between “homeless people”, “people experiencing homelessness”, and “people denied housing”?
After a robust conversation, I led an art activity in which clients first painted what it would “look, sound, and feel like if everyone has been housed” and then what it would “look, sound, and feel like to work with other people without homes toward this goal”.
I noticed that initially many clients rejected the idea that they were themselves homeless (despite all sleeping on the streets or in shelters) and often blamed homelessness on irresponsibility, moral failures, and drug misuse. When I raised the issue that many people use substances because of unaddressed trauma or mental illness, and that disability keeps many people unemployed, the discussion shifted dramatically. Suddenly, the women began to claim the need for supportive housing for individuals and families, including drug treatment options, not just legal punishment. The group ended with members energized and voicing that they were considering issues from new perspectives, particularly impactful because of the collective nature of these sentiments.
Facilitating this group was illuminating and will help me prepare for my macro project and other future work. First, I will be able to assure DDD participants that these conversations are possible if we check our paternalism when voicing fears that these topics “hit too close to home” for our clients, while also cautioning us from assuming all homeless people’s experiences and feelings are the same. Second, it will help me suggest methods to push beyond stigma, promote cooperation between clients, and open channels for clients to teach providers. Beyond DDD, I would urge all social workers interested in housing justice to initiate these conversations and build shared understandings with each other, but especially with our clients. In this way, we will mutually set the course for our movements.
About the Author: Pictured left, Mar Kidvai Padilla (pronouns: they/them) is an MSSW Candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. They obtained their MS Ed in 2012 at Hunter College in New York City. They have spent the past 15 years working for freedom in a variety of roles, including as a community organizer, domestic violence hotline operator, human trafficking researcher, elementary school teacher, HIV/HCV tester, harm reduction counselor, and sexual health training manager. They believe housing justice is only possible in a decolonized world that centers Black liberation.
This post was guest-authored by Elizabeth Bowen, Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
When we talk about the field of services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness—where the field has been, where it is, where it’s going—one word I’m increasingly hearing is innovation.
But, what does this word really mean?
Is it just a buzzword, or does it indicate a meaningful shift in thinking and design for the homelessness services sector?
The actual definition of innovation is fairly straightforward. Per an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, an innovation is a process or outcome that’s both novel and an improvement on the status quo. I will admit that there’s a part of me, though, that instantly interprets the word innovation as someone telling me, “What you and your peers and collaborators have been doing is not good enough.“
Many people and organizations do excellent work in homelessness services, day in and day out (and overnight, as homeless services are definitely not a 9-to-5 thing). Providers work with homeless and housing insecure families to make sure children’s education is not disrupted, they do their best to keep shelters clean and safe, they go out in all kinds of crazy weather to do outreach, build relationships, and connect people with services. And these are just a few examples. All in all, I think most homeless service providers do a fine job with very limited resources, and sometimes their work is downright heroic. So, I get a little defensive when I hear the i-word heaved in their direction.
These were some of the questions and reservations on my mind when I had the opportunity to co-teach a class last summer for Social Impact Fellows, a collaboration between the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, School of Management, and Blackstone LaunchPad. In its inaugural year in 2017, eight MSW and eight MBA students worked in cross-disciplinary pairs to complete an innovation project at a local socially-minded business or nonprofit. Kelly Patterson, from the School of Social Work, Tom Ulbrich, from the School of Management, and I co-taught the classroom portion of the fellowship, which included many discussions around the meaning of terms like social enterprise, social entrepreneurship, social impact…and, of course, the i-word.
The experience of co-teaching the class led me to a deeper reflection on innovation and what it means for homeless services. My fear is that when people think about innovation and homelessness, they will think that they have the answer, or even that there is a single answer to ending homelessness, just waiting to be discovered by the next innovator bright and creative enough to see it. As a researcher, it is apparent to me that homelessness is a complex social problem. It has no single cause, and I do not think it has a single solution. It will not be conclusively solved in a hackathon or in an afternoon’s design thinking lab.
In teaching the Social Impact Fellowship class, though, I realized there were ways I could talk and teach about innovation and homelessness without oversimplifying either. One of the topics we covered in class was systems change, the idea that any innovation should be considered within the context of larger systems and ultimately that creating social impact means working with an eye toward comprehensive systems change, rather than focusing only on particular programs or institutions. There were numerous examples from homeless services that I could draw from to illustrate systems change, such as coordinated entry—the redesigning of homelessness services for an entire city or geographic area around a centralized, person-centered intake and assessment process. I also pointed to Housing First as an example of a system-wide and research-driven paradigm shift in homeless services, as insightfully described in Deborah Padgett, Benjamin Henwood, and Sam Tsemberis’ book Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives. This book and the Housing First story it tells contain another key lesson about innovation: The best, and arguably the only truly viable, solutions emerge from listening to and raising up the voices of the people directly affected by the social problems we seek to address.
As it happened, three of the 2017 Social Impact Fellowship student teams’ projects were related to housing and homelessness. One team assisted social service agency and supportive housing provider Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center in developing a screen-printing business as a social enterprise to generate revenue while helping clients build employment skills. Another team worked with bicycle and active transportation advocates Go Bike Buffalo to pilot a program to provide bikes, helmets, and basic cycling training for homeless and low-income people to use as transportation to work and appointments. And, a third group researched and created policies and structures for a new housing program at Belmont Housing Resources for Western New York for young people aging out of foster care.
None of these projects solved homelessness, of course. But they did augment and shift current services and program models in exciting, needed, and—dare I say—innovative ways. When the class concluded, I was left feeling proud of what the homeless services sector has already accomplished, hopeful about the system-level changes currently underway, and optimistic about the potential for future advances.
Blog Post Author: Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Her research focuses on the relationship between housing and health. She is also the university’s faculty liaison for the National Center’s National Homelessness Social Work Initiative. In this role, she co-facilitates the New York-New Jersey Regional Network. Read her previous blog post here.
Nicole Garcia and Sydney Hull, undergraduate students in social work at the College at Brockport, had an interest in the issue of homelessness in Rochester, NY. As part of a course on social work methods, they developed a simulation project called Racing for Housing to reduce college students’ stigma towards and stereotypes about the homeless population. In this post, Nicole and Sydney write about their Racing for Housing pilot project and its effect on students.
While doing an internship at a local homeless service agency, we saw firsthand the significant number of barriers that prevent homeless individuals from obtaining permanent housing. Negative perceptions about homeless people and the causes of homelessness factor into these barriers.
At our own college, we encounter individuals who stereotype the homeless population. These negative perceptions of homeless individuals aren’t unique to our college. In a 2014 survey of undergraduate students’ perceptions of poverty and homelessness, 57% of participants reported believing that homelessness is due to individual laziness, and 60% said it was likely due to not working hard enough to earn income.
The findings of this survey motivated us to do something to help educate students on campus. Our solution was to create a poverty simulation called Racing for Housing, which we developed and piloted for the project requirement for our Social Work Methods III course. The primary goal of Racing for Housing is to diminish stereotypes of individuals who are homeless through education, engagement, and advocacy.
Racing for Housing is designed to give students firsthand experience of the everyday challenges an individual searching for housing faces. We brought this simulation into two junior social work classes. The entire activity comprised the Racing for Housing simulation, two guest speakers, and a pre- and post-survey to evaluate the effectiveness of the activity. Forty-five students participated.
Before the activity, we administered a pre-survey to gauge students’ understanding of the contributing factors to being homeless and their general perceptions of the homeless population. After completing the survey, each student received a notecard with a scenario that reflected a common barrier that individuals experiencing homelessness encounter. Example barriers included mental illness, a substance abuse disorder, and a criminal record.
Each scenario had directions regarding which room the student needed to travel to in the building. In this activity, there were four rooms with two types of agencies in each room. The agencies included were as follows: the Department of Human Services, the Rochester Psychiatric Center, the House of Mercy Homeless Shelter, a realtor, the Center for Youth, Vital Records, a hospital, and the Unemployment Office. When students arrived to their assigned agency, there was a volunteer who gave them instructions.
Each participant had to make three stops in an attempt to access housing, and they were only given 10 minutes to complete the task. Below is an example of a scenario.
Example Scenario: Experiencing a Shelter Sanction Barrier
Role: You are a 30-year-old African American woman fleeing domestic violence. You are also a single mother with two children and are in search of a two-bedroom apartment.
Process: The student (or “mother”) is instructed to go to the shelter stop where the volunteer (or “shelter worker”) tells the student that they were sanctioned and have to go to the Department of Human Services (DHS) to find out why. When the student goes to DHS, they find out that they are under a 30-day sanction for not handing in paperwork in time. They are then told to go to the House of Mercy shelter, because they do not enforce the sanction in their shelter. This is the student’s (or “mother’s”) last stop.
The 10 minutes allowed for each scenario represent what a newly homeless individual might go through in 24 hours. Some students never reached the third stop, and when some students did, they were surprised by the type of housing they received. While they may have found shelter for the night, they did not find permanent or stable housing. This realization reflected the harsh realities that homeless individuals endure each day.
Following the simulation, students listened to two guest speakers – a formerly homeless woman who shared her journey and the barriers she faced and the co-founder of a non-profit who spoke of their program’s utilization of the housing first model and its successes.
A post-survey was administered at the end, which included an open-ended question that asked participants about their learning experience. Dr. Carmen Aponte, assistant professor, helped interpret the survey data. The survey results showed that participants came into the activity well-informed about the causes of homelessness. However, after engaging in the simulation and hearing from the guest speakers, there was a change in the participants’ perceptions and prejudices. Sample comments from the open-ended question are below:
“It can be easy to forget the soul underneath the homeless or difficulties a person faces. [I] will work hard to not pre-judge those facing homelessness.”
“Some disabilities are invisible, and we should never assume.”
“[The] activity and guest speakers changed my perception on the stereotype of all homeless individuals and that they aren’t all in that predicament because of limited education or low income.”
“I never knew just how many barriers there were in order to get into quality housing.”
“It changed my perception on those that are mentally, physically disabled. I especially didn’t think [about] the disabilities you can’t see and are unnoticeable.”
The object of the activity was to receive housing. But in reality, none of the students received housing. Instead, they received some form of shelter, if they made it to their third stop. It is crucial that the students not think that a shelter, psychiatric center, or other institutional setting is a form of permanent housing. When students enter the field of social work, we don’t want them to be satisfied with placing a client in a shelter. If students work with the homeless population, we want them to strive to get their clients in an apartment or other form of housing that they can call home.
Blog Post Authors:
Nicole Garcia received her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the College at Brockport in 2017 and will earn her MSW from the University at Buffalo this May. She is currently completing her graduate internship at Genesee Mental Health Center, working with individuals experiencing mental health and substance use disorders, and she also works as a Complex Care Manager at MC Collaborative.
Sydney Hull earned her BSW degree in Social Work in May 2018. After her year-long internship at Person Centered Housing Options, she is now looking for employment with youth and/or persons with developmental/intellectual disabilities.
Anchorage, Alaska is a midsize community similar to other urban areas in many ways and is home to the state’s largest public library, Z.J. Loussac Library. The library is a safe, warm, and welcoming place, but also is often a place that reflects community needs. Like other urban libraries, Loussac was seeing an increase in patrons who needed assistance that often fell outside the scope of what public libraries are traditionally equipped to provide. Sarah Preskitt, who came to the Library in 2013 as the Adult Services Librarian at Loussac, immediately recognized that many of the patrons utilizing the library needed more help than librarians and staff could give. At the same time, other members of the community were beginning to declare their resentment at having to share public space with people who were homeless or displaying challenging behaviors.
Indeed, the needs noted by Preskitt are real and compelling. A recent in-person survey of 739 library patrons conducted by the Anchorage Public Library found that 27% of respondents reported experiencing challenges, such as mental illness, alcoholism, dementia, developmental disabilities, and/or traumatic brain injury. Further, 24.8% of the patrons completing the in-person survey, and an additional 81 patrons who responded to an online version, were currently experiencing homelessness.
Not to be stopped, Preskitt began searching for real solutions. In 2015, she met Dr. Pam Bowers, a then University of Alaska social work faculty member, and the two developed a collaboration between the library and students enrolled in a social work practice with organizations and communities course. From that collaboration, the idea of developing a practicum site at the library developed. In August 2016, Preskitt began supervising Rebecca Barker, the first MSW social work intern at the library, which marked the beginning of a wonderful partnership to end homelessness among library patrons.
From her experience, Barker strongly believes that information sharing via a respectful therapeutic relationship can be a positive facilitator for empowerment and encouraging patrons to connect with needed services. Along with regularly assisting patrons, Barker developed a community resource guide for the librarians and staff, attended city homeless coalition meetings, and was trained as a coordinated entry site for the city.
“That positive relationship you build with an individual allows you to create confidence in that person to reach out to access needed services, which is scary, and overwhelming. But when they have the support and experience of a positive human interface, you create confidence in the person to take the challenge and reach out to access services.” ~ Rebecca Barker
This year, MSW students Katelyn Sonido and Tamara Boeckman (pictured right) are interning in two city libraries where they work with librarians to address a variety of unmet informational and social service needs for patrons, many of whom are experiencing homelessness. Each Sunday, Boeckman and Sonido staff a resource table (pictured below) in the welcoming entrance of the Loussac Library.
In addition to working with patrons and assisting with referrals, Sonido developed a very popular weekly job lab that assists patrons with job searching, applications, and interview skills at the Mountain View Library. Boekman also provides advocacy work and assists library leadership with developing procedures for patrons who have violated library rules to assure due process. In addition, the two have presented to librarians and staff about trauma-informed homeless services and barriers to care.
“The library has become an integral place in the community to reach homeless individuals that other Continuum of Care agencies haven’t reached.” ~ Tamara Boeckman, MSW
City librarians and staff appreciate the students and feel they provide increased access and empowerment through information and resources within the library. This partnership has been so successful that the library is currently seeking funding for a full time social worker.
“The MSW students are better at asking hard questions and their training prepares them to understand what people need and where to start uniquely with each patron. They can help patrons prioritize their needs in a really skillful way.” ~ Sarah Preskitt
Blog Post Authors: Kathi Trawver, PhD (Associate Professor, University of Alaska Anchorage), Sarah Preskitt (Adult Services Librarian at Z.J. Loussac Library), Rebecca Barker, Katelyn Sonido, and Tamara Boeckman (all MSW students)