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.

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

On social media?
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

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

On social media?
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Faculty and Students at the College at Brockport Advocate for the Rights of People Experiencing Homelessness

Professors Barbara Kasper and Melissa Sydor (College at Brockport – SUNY, Department of Social Work) have led several community organizing activities to involve the school’s BSW program in efforts to connect with the struggles of the homeless population in their community (Rochester, NY). These community-based educational activities reflect a commitment to CSWE’s Competency 3, which underscores social workers’ need to understand strategies designed to eliminate oppressive structural barriers and to advance social, economic, and environmental justice.

At the school, internships are intended to provide students with micro and macro practice experience. However, if a placement cannot provide macro practice experience, students can organize campus and community-based events to meet this requirement. Additionally, many students volunteer to be part of events beyond doing so for course credit. Community organizing efforts at the school range in type and scope. Some examples are provided below.

Learning about Organization Efforts Led by Homeless People

Students and local activists, in collaboration with campus- and community-based partners, joined together to bring Cheri Honkala, leader of the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign, to speak at an event titled “Connecting the Struggles and Building a Movement: Stories of Struggle and Resonance.” Honkala spoke about what poor and homeless people are doing around the country to fight back against their invisibility and advocate for their economic rights. A panel of local activists and experts contributed to the discussion, with a particular focus on recent issues related to Rochester’s homeless population.

Advocating for the Rights of Homeless People

In December of 2014, the City of Rochester bulldozed a tent city referred to as “Sanctuary Village,” which destroyed the shelter and personal belongings of more than 40 homeless people. The city eventually agreed to allow these people to be housed temporarily in a warehouse. In response to the bulldozing, Barbara Kasper wrote an essay for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle about barriers to housing faced by homeless people and advocating for the city to adopt a Homeless Bill of Rights. Additionally, Kasper and Sydor organized a community forum, which featured Willie Baptist – a formerly homeless man with more than 40 years of community organizing experience with the poor. The event also included representatives from Picture the Homeless, an organization in New York City that develops leadership among homeless people to impact policies and systems that affect their lives. Over 100 people attended the forum. Students helped plan and promote the event, either as part of a course or as volunteers.

Photography student, Audrey Horn, from the Rochester Institute of Technology created this video for the event to document the disparity between what many would consider a “typical” day and a day experienced by individuals living in a temporary homeless shelter. This video features Sanctuary Village in Rochester, New York.

Raising Awareness with a Campus Tent City Event

A Tent City event occurs annually on the main campus at Brockport. This two-day event is typically organized by students. Tent City is a community education and awareness event as well as a fundraiser for local organizations who serve the homeless. In addition to sleeping outside in tents overnight, students solicit local businesses for donations; “panhandle” on campus for donations; collect clothing donations; recruit and supervise volunteers; invite local anti-poverty activists to speak; and screen documentaries that focus on poverty and homelessness. Click here for a press release about the 2015 Tent City event.

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead

Special thanks to Barbara Kasper for providing content for this blog post.

UT Austin SSW Partners with Homeless Service Agencies to Create Community-Based Learning Opportunities for Students

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.

Picture1
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