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.