Nazareth College Supports Local Project Homeless Connect

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).


Homelessness Nationally
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.


PHC 2016PHCR 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.

PHC.3PHC.2 2016

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Nazareth College Supports 10th Annual Project Homeless Connect in Rochester, NY

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.


Homelessness Nationally

  • 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.

PHC FloorPictured 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.

Student conducting entrance interviewPictured 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.

Homeless Services and the “i” Word

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.

The Grand Challenge to End Homelessness continues. Innovators welcome.

Elizabeth_Bowen_Small (1)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.

University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work Hosts “Evicted” Author, Matthew Desmond

This past May, the Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) at the University of Houston (UH) chose the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City as a summer reading experience for all members of the college to read and discuss together at the start of the semester. Meanwhile, GCSW Dean Alan Dettlaff was preparing to launch a new lecture series – Speaking of Social Justice, the Maconda Brown O’Connor Distinguished Lecture. It seemed a natural fit to invite the author of the summer read – Matthew Desmond, professor of sociology at Princeton University – to be the inaugural speaker. Subsequently, Evicted was named the 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winner in General Nonfiction. The Pulitzer Prize Board recognized Desmond’s work as “a deeply researched exposé that showed how mass evictions after the 2008 economic crash were less a consequence than a cause of poverty.”  The GCSW and the university were honored to host Desmond for a lecture, Q&A, and book signing.

A sociologist by training, Desmond shared about the research methodology that became the basis for the book. He and his team conducted the Milwaukee Area Renters Study (MARS) in Milwaukee’s low-income private housing sector. Surveying 1,000 households in person, they achieved an 84% response rate, no small feat considering their instrument consisted of 250 questions. Desmond stressed the importance of “shoe leather” in designing the research study, research questions, and sample recruitment. They learned asking “have you ever been evicted” was artificially suppressing their results – a person with an eviction on their record may answer “no” to that question, because they define eviction differently, such as having one’s things put on the curb.

As homelessness declines nationwide, housing insecurity is rising. Desmond reported one in four Americans spend 70% of their income on rent. Desmond found that, according to court documents, 40 people are evicted every day in Milwaukee. This is on average 1 in 29 households (1 in 14 black households). However, factoring other involuntary moves that go unreported to the courts, the number is closer to 1 in 8. This is an epidemic that pervasively impacts a person’s life. When a person is evicted, they not only lose their home but they may also lose their school, belongings, community, safety, job, and health.

Desmond argues that without access to stable housing, everything else falls apart. Similar to the way the U.S. government has committed to providing economic security for the elderly and food security for the poor, Desmond proposes that we should refocus resources to provide access to housing for all Americans.

Comment from student attendee:

“I felt fortunate to hear Desmond’s presentation. He won the Pulitzer Prize not only for his quality research but his ability to tell a story with statistics. He did an extensive amount of ethnographic research, living for months with people going through evictions and learning from the landlords in both white and black neighborhoods in Milwaukee. His book details heartbreaking and unfair (but also sometimes funny and joyful) moments in the lives of numerous families. Now, he travels the country sharing what he’s learned. And, after everything he’s witnessed, and in the midst of such a divided political climate, he remains optimistic that our nation can rise to the challenge to solve this crisis.”
~ Stephanie Coates (blog post author)

Desmond’s UH presentation was polished and tailored to those in attendance. He knew he was speaking to a room of social workers, and as he concluded his remarks, he issued a call. To bring about change, Desmond recognizes many people will have to be at the table. He said the crisis of eviction and housing insecurity (explore the data for your town) demands coalitions of people invested in our communities’ public and mental health, education, criminal justice, public safety, and spiritual lives must come together. Social workers can be instrumental in answering that call. One resource for information and connection is justshelter.org, which “features links to over 600 organizations working to preserve affordable housing, prevent eviction, and reduce family homelessness, and presents stories from Americans who have faced eviction.”

Comment from student attendee:

“During his UH presentation, when Desmond said the ‘rent eats first’ and ‘home is for ourselves, every other place is for everything else,’ I knew he was not saying these lines as mere words that might elicit interest in his talk. If I had heard him speak before reading Evicted, I honestly would have thought they were quotes to add theatrics. I did not understand what is truly happening in so many cases of eviction. I attributed the cause to the person making what I would call an unknowing decision, thinking of consequences of my own past actions, not a system that creates a cycle, and often a spiral, of despair. Desmond stating eviction may be ‘inevitability not irresponsibility’ is what sticks with me. As he said, people have written the scenario about the poor, but never the why. Through the research captured in Evicted, Desmond uncovered the why.”
~ Stephanie King (blog post author)

Blog Post Authors: University of Houston MSW Students Stephanie Coates and Stephanie King (pictured above with Matthew Desmond)

Sacramento State Tackles Homelessness Locally

The team at California State University, Sacramento, comprised of Drs. Tyler Argüello and Arturo Baiocchi, has been busy over the past year conducting various activities and, now, celebrating some initial accomplishments.

Interprofessional Workshops

The overarching theme of the workshops this year was to “de-center” the conversation on homelessness.  That is to say, we tried to have the audience and the presenters step out of the role of ‘experts’ and re-center our focus and possible responses on the people affected by homelessness and co-occurring issues. The interactive workshops were open to faculty, staff, students, and community partners, and sought to cultivate an ongoing dialogue about issues related to housing insecurity. The workshops were partly interactive as well as included guest presentations on resources and issues related to regional homelessness. The first workshop included a set of activities facilitated by Dr. Argüello designed to encourage students to re-visit their own implicit biases they may have toward individuals experiencing housing insecurity. The activity was followed by a presentation from the CEO of Sacramento Steps Forward, the lead agency in Sacramento working on homelessness issues. Students were introduced to various initiatives being pursued by local non-profits, and the election of a new mayor who has made homelessness a key issue for the city to address.

The second workshop focused on student homelessness on campus. The workshop included activities that encouraged students to consider how the lived experiences of homeless students may differ from their own. The activity was followed by a presentation by Student Affairs that discussed new state legislation and CSUS policies being implemented to protect students experiencing housing insecurity. The new university Case Manager, Danielle Munoz, LMFT, and MSW Intern Virgil Rambeau gave a detailed presentation on how students can qualify and apply for food assistance, emergency housing, and other resources on and off campus.

Both workshops were well attended with a total of 45 participants from social work, nursing, speech  pathology, sociology, and psychology. Baiocchi and Argüello plan on continuing the workshop series with two addition sessions in Fall and Spring of next year.

Sacramento PointinTime Study

In December 2016, Dr. Baiocchi was approached by Sacramento Steps Forward (SSF) for assistance with the biennial Point-In-Time count of homeless individuals for Sacramento County. Drs. Argüello and Baiocchi recruited 75 CSUS students to assist in data collection and data entry.  To assist in the analysis of the data, Dr. Baiocchi invited Dr. Jennifer Price-Wolf (Assistant Professor in Social Work) and Keith Hodson from the Institute for Social Research to the project. The final analysis and report were completed in July 2017. The report was also referenced by the New York Times regarding housing problems in California.

Smart Policing Initiative: County Sheriff Homeless Outreach Team

In September 2016, CSUS won a research project with the Sacramento County Sherriff’s Department and Sacramento Steps Forward (SSF) regarding a new SMART Policing Initiative, an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance and U.S. Department of Justice. Sacramento is one of six sites in the country selected for two years of funding. The project will evaluate a new Homeless Street Outreach collaboration between Sherriff deputies and SSF Street Navigators, looking at access to services in the outskirts of the city, the impacts to the surrounding community, and the possible cultural changes that may occur due to increased collaboration between the Sherriff Deputies and social service providers.

Californians Speak on Social Welfare

In Spring 2016 Drs. Baiocchi, Argüello, and Price-Wolf (along with three other social work faculty at CSUS) secured funding for a multi-year, probability-based survey project called The Californians Speak on Social Welfare (CSSW) Survey. The CSSW project seeks to assess how Californians view various social issues and policies implicated in social work practice. The first and second surveys were developed and implemented in Fall 2016, the first of which concerned perceptions of social work and child welfare reporting and the second concerned stigma related to homelessness and mental health. The third will be conducted in Summer 2017. The data has already been used for MSW students’ thesis projects, and peer-reviewed articles are forthcoming. In an effort to make homelessness a more integral part of the curriculum at CSUS, Dr. Baiocchi offered his thesis students the opportunity to analyze the CSSW survey data as it pertains to homelessness. A total of five MSW students conducted projects that explored the scholarship on the social and cultural stigmas that homeless individuals experience and the effects that these perceptions may have on public policy.

Addressing Homelessness Through Social Innovation: The University of Denver’s First Homelessness Hackathon

This spring, the University of Denver explored uncharted waters, launching its first annual homelessness hackathon, which was dedicated to generating innovative solutions to homelessness through a rapid design process. The event, titled Somewhere to Go, was hosted by the University’s Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) and co-sponsored by other university groups, with generous financial support from the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services as well as public and private donors.

Participants, including students and community members, formed interdisciplinary workgroups representing the fields of social work, computer science, engineering, international development, business, psychology, and beyond. Together, they learned about the issue of homelessness from the perspectives of academia, local government, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, and directly from adult and youth service users. Cash prizes were promised to the groups with the winning ideas. However, as the sun went down on the seven-hour event, it became abundantly clear that participants were focused solely on developing genuine understanding and realistic solutions.

After several hours of learning about homelessness, the groups began to brainstorm through a rapid prototyping process. Borrowing from design thinking and human-centered design approaches, participants were encouraged to explore solutions through a lens of empathy, intense consumer engagement, and a willingness to take risks and fail forward. As teams bounced ideas off community experts, who were roaming the room ready to offer feedback, they discovered that homelessness, though seemingly straightforward, was a complex issue with various leverage points. The question of where to begin proved more difficult than perhaps initially anticipated.

“One hour left!” rang through the room as groups poured over their three-minute pitches, making sure to highlight key judging criteria as to how their idea achieved feasibility, sustainability, innovation, and impact. One by one, each of the six groups wowed the audience with thoughtful, creative pitches that included mobile apps, peer mentorship, university courses, and microloans offered through credit unions. A panel of judges selected a shelter mobile app to win the main prize, while hackathon participants honored the credit union idea with the people’s choice award. And just like that, the event was done, with hearts full of inspiration and more questions about what comes next. Group members swapped contact information and buzzed about launching their individual ideas, while loading up on leftover pizza and snacks – the door prize for everyone.

As for the University of Denver and the GSSW, it was clear that something dynamic had taken place that day. A collective enthusiasm and energy swirled around participants from different disciplines, students and professionals alike, all ready to put their ideas to the test. GSSW doctoral students, Jennifer Wilson and Jonah DeChants, along with professor Kimberly Bender, developed the event and conducted a small pilot study to determine the feasibility of changing attitudes and developing ideas through rapid innovation. Results of a pretest and posttest survey administered to all hackathon participants revealed a significant increase in perceived knowledge of homelessness as well as significant and positive shifts in attitudes and beliefs pertaining to individual, societal, and personal responsibility related to homelessness. Additional qualitative feedback revealed that participants, who had already dedicated an entire Friday to the event, wanted even more – more time to innovate, more time with community experts, and more time to pitch their ideas and solicit feedback from the group. So now the steering committee is tasked with its own design challenge – how to take the homelessness hackathon to the next level in year two.

Jennifer Wilson, headshot

About the Author: Jennifer H. Wilson, MSW, IMBA is a PhD student in the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW). Her research interests center on the promotion of poverty reduction through social business interventions and social innovation. She is currently working with the Burnes Center on Poverty and Homelessness at GSSW, exploring tiny homes and comprehensive community initiatives. 

Like this post?
Check out this one about a homelessness hackathon at the University of South Florida.

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Binghamton University Hosts Film Screening and Panel Discussion to Raise Awareness about Homelessness

This past November 18th, in recognition of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, faculty and students from Binghamton University’s Department of Social Work collaborated with the Southern Tier Homeless Coalition to host a screening of the film Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell. A panel presentation and community conversation followed to raise awareness of homelessness, its potential ramifications, and to identify next steps. Binghamton’s mayor, Rich David, opened the event with a brief speech about his ongoing efforts to address homelessness.

The film follows the continuing life story of Erin Blackwell, who was first introduced to audiences 20 years ago in director Martin Bell’s Streetwise, a documentary about youth homelessness. Bell’s follow-up documentary profoundly chronicles the resilience and ongoing traumas encountered by the protagonist over the course of two decades.

TheAudience2
More than 60 community members and students attended the event.

 

The panel included:

  • Cassandra Bransford, Associate Professor of social work at Binghamton University and faculty contact for the National Center, who served as moderator;
  • Shari Weiss, President of the Executive Board and Chair of the Southern Tier Homeless Coalition, who spoke about developing community partnerships to end homelessness;
  • David Wallace, Clinical Director at the LaSalle School (Albany, NY), who spoke about trauma, homelessness, and youth;
  • Jessica Peruse, Homeless Team Leader at the VA Medical Center (Syracuse, NY), who spoke about the Housing First model; and
  • Jed Metzger, Associate Professor of social work at Nazareth College and the school’s faculty contact for the National Center, who spoke about what we can do to end homelessness and poverty.

The panelists presented their perspective following the screening, answered audience questions, and encouraged audience members to get involved. Continuing education credits were offered to social workers for attending. The event was otherwise free and open to the public.

ThePanel
Panelists answered audience questions following the film.

Donations were solicited for the ongoing Freeze Fund initiative. Both prior to and during the event, students collected non-perishable food items, toothbrushes, socks and foot warmers to hand out in care packages to community members over the frigid winter months.

Ending Homelessness in Binghamton

The city of Binghamton has long been on the forefront of the struggle to eradicate homelessness. In late 2014, Mayor David announced a landmark accomplishment in this effort as part of the national Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. On a single night across the city, not a single veteran experienced unsheltered homelessness, earning Binghamton the distinction of being the first city in the country to meet the Mayors Challenge.

These efforts continue to this day, led in large part by the Southern Tier Homeless Coalition, which coordinates services and conducts the yearly point-in-time count. The Coalitions’ work helps provide critical support to the community and gathers crucial data to secure funding for services both in urban Binghamton and in the surrounding rural counties.

Advancing Social Justice Together

This event supports the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s Grand Challenge to End Homelessness and aligns with CSWE’s fifth core competency – advancing human rights and social and economic justice. Homeless or otherwise, our most vulnerable community members deserve better, and it is our responsibility as social workers to help build a social safety net to protect them. This event to raise community awareness is only one step in the broader struggle to end homelessness.

Ultimately, ongoing collaboration among stakeholders is key. Rebecca Rathmell, the Southern Tier Homeless Coalition’s coordinator, said it best:

“It has to be a collaborative effort and everything from street outreach and making sure we’re identifying the youth and the families experiencing homelessness all the way to permanent support of housing.”

We were grateful to be able to collaborate to make this event happen and we at Binghamton University are looking forward to future opportunities moving forward.

michaelcole_picture

About the Author: Michael Cole is a second-year master’s student and Graduate Assistant at the Binghamton University Department of Social Work. He is currently interning at the UHS Wilson Medical Center. In his spare time, he enjoys baking and blogging about social justice. 

Like this post?
Check out this one written by Robin Petering, doctoral candidate at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

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Visit our website to learn more about us and our National Homelessness Social Work Initiative. And, join our mailing list to receive our newsletter.

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