College at Brockport Students Use Class Project to Reduce Stigma towards People Experiencing Homelessness

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:

picture nicole garcia
Nicole Garcia

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



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.





UAlbany Supports Statewide Coalition for Homeless Youth

In November, the University at Albany’s School of Social Welfare co-hosted the New York Coalition for Homeless Youth’s (CHY) Annual Conference for the fourth year in a row. CHY is a statewide membership network of providers who serve runaway and homeless youth and young adults across New York. This partnership aligns with UAlbany’s goals for the National Homelessness Social Work Initiative and its role as part of the New York-New Jersey Regional Network.

Amanda Aykanian, doctoral candidate and Research and Project Lead for the National Center, works closely with CHY’s executive director, Jamie Powlovich, to plan the event. Cara Duffy, the school’s administrative assistant, supports this effort by managing space, food, and parking logistics.


This year’s conference took place over two days, with the first day at UAlbany and the second at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany. Along with the many CHY member attendees, there were several young people in attendance – most who are members of New York City’s homeless youth advisory council (pictured left, with Jamie Powlovich on the far right). Young people had active roles throughout the event. You can hear the powerful opening remarks from Ja’asriel Bishop here.

The conference theme was, “Resilience and Resistance: Empowering Youth and Improving the Systems that Serve Them”. Workshops and roundtables addressed a wide range of topics, including the following:

  • federal policy updates and strategic recommendations
  • meeting the legal needs of homeless youth
  • Housing First best practices
  • human trafficking
  • outreach strategies
  • working with transgender and non-binary youth
  • using administrative data to measure housing trajectories
  • rural services resources and challenges
  • statewide policy planning


Amanda presented findings from a study she recently conducted in the Capital Region on service and policy considerations when working with homeless youth. This study was  published in Children and Youth Services Review. She also led a roundtable on using youth leadership to end youth homelessness (pictured right).

The event closed with the presentations of the 2017 Margot Hirsch Moxie Award (pictured below), which was given to Michael Berg, executive director of Family of Woodstock.

55ae6fa5-d59e-4d6e-8f27-ad448575914bFor more information on CHY, check out their website and Facebook page.

For more information on youth homelessness, read our recent post about the Voices of Youth Count project.

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, MA, Research and Project Lead, National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services


Campaign for NY/NY Housing

The National Center supports the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing urging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to fund 35,000 supportive housing units across New York State over the next ten years.

Homelessness in New York State has doubled in the last decade, with roughly 67,000 men, women, and children staying in shelters at any given time. Countless others live on the street, in cars, or doubled-up. Supportive housing is a viable solution to this rising problem and has been proven through a large body of research to be a cost-effective and successful way to end homelessness for individuals and families, particularly for those with complex needs and disabilities. Pairing affordable housing with on-site services, supportive housing has also been shown to reduce the use of costly resources such as shelters, hospitals, psychiatric centers, and correctional institutions.

There is a significant shortage of supportive housing units in New York State, and in New York City in particular. In fact, four out of every five people eligible for supportive housing in New York City get turned away because of lack of available units.

It is time for New York State to take action and use this important opportunity to set a national example. The New York-New Jersey Regional Network of the National Homelessness Social Work Initiative sent a letter of support to Governor Andrew Cuomo advocating for the creation of the needed agreements to fund these units. We urge other individuals and organizations to join us in supporting this important and necessary step towards ending homelessness in New York State.

Learn More About the Campaign:

Call the Governor’s Office: 1) Dial 518-474-1041; 2)  Press “1” to leave a message; 3) Leave this or a similar message: “I urge Governor Cuomo to get the housing MOU done now. He made this promise more than a year ago. Over 80,000 people are homeless across the state. Every day that passes without an MOU is another day that people live in the streets and in shelters. We need the Governor to fulfill his promise and get the MOU signed now.”

Send a Letter to the Governor’s Office:
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224


Like this post?
Check out this one written by Kelsey Whittington, graduate assistant for the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services.

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Moving On From PSH: Emmy Tiderington and Dan Herman Tackle The “What’s Next?” Question

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is an evidence-based intervention that combines affordable housing with wrap-around support services in order to end homelessness for individuals who experience barriers to housing stability, such as serious mental illness, substance use problems, and chronic health conditions. Since the model’s inception, the number of PSH beds in the U.S. has increased substantially, up 52% just over the past ten years. Currently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that close to 320,000 PSH beds exist within the federal housing inventory. However, demand for PSH still outstrips supply, and one of the overarching questions for policymakers is how to “right-size” homeless services to individual need and maximize the use of limited resources.

While some service recipients will require the intensity of support services and housing assistance that PSH offers for a lifetime, others may not need this level of support after some time and want to transition from the PSH program into mainstream housing completely separate from supportive services. In fact, a previous study of PSH programs estimated that 5 to 25 percent of PSH residents would be able to successfully move on from these programs and live independent from services.

In recognition of this gap in the homeless service system, several recent pilot programs (commonly called Moving On initiatives) are assisting willing and able PSH residents with the transition from program-based apartments into mainstream independent units using a combination of transitional supports and affordable housing subsidies. Moving On initiatives address the PSH “supply bottleneck” by allowing homeless individuals and families with greater needs to access intensive services, while providing opportunities for those who can move on with the opportunity to achieve fully integrated, independent living in the community in the least restrictive setting possible. However, best practices for the Moving On model have yet to be developed and little is known about the outcomes of those leaving PSH through these initiatives over time.

Dr. Emmy Tiderington (Assistant Professor of Social Work at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey), in collaboration with Dr. Dan Herman (Professor of Social Work at Hunter College), is conducting a three-year study funded by the Oak Foundation of the implementation and outcomes of New York City’s Moving On Initiative (MOI). The New York City MOI is one of the largest in the country, assisting 125 PSH recipients across five supportive housing agencies and a range of subpopulations (e.g. adults, families, and youth who have aged out of foster care) as they move from PSH into independent apartments using Housing Choice Vouchers and various transitional supports.

The aims of this mixed methods study are to: 1) Capture MOI recipient outcomes regarding quality of life, health and recovery, community integration, service utilization, and housing stability, at one year and two years post-leaving PSH; 2) Describe MOI program implementation processes and experiences within and across the five different Moving On provider agencies; and 3) Identify the individual-, program-, and system-level barriers to and facilitators of MOI recipients’ successful transition from PSH programs to independent living in the community. Findings from this study will be used to inform the development of best practices for MOI implementation and broader scale-ups of MOI across the country.

Dr. Emmy Tiderington

Blog Post Author: Emmy Tiderington, PhD, LMSW Assistant Professor, School of Social Work and Associate Faculty, Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Dr. Tiderington’s research focuses on the implementation and effectiveness of supportive housing and other forms of homeless services as a means for ending homelessness and improving outcomes for service recipients. She is a licensed social worker with extensive direct practice experience working in supportive housing and case management services for adults with serious mental illness. In addition to leading the Moving On study, her research has explored the mechanisms and processes by which homeless adults achieve recovery from substance abuse and serious mental illness. She has also examined the individual, organizational, and macro-systemic barriers to “street-level” policy implementation of person-centered care, harm reduction, and the management of risk and recovery in supportive housing services.

Like this post?
Check out this one written by Dr. Kimberly Bender from the University of Denver.

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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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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.

Silberman School of Social Work Launches Center for the Advancement of Critical Time Intervention

The Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York City, an affiliate of the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services, has launched the Center for the Advancement of Critical Time Intervention. The Center aims to coordinate and mobilize the efforts of providers, trainers, researchers, and funders to promote uptake of Critical Time Intervention (CTI) through ongoing collaboration, information sharing, advocacy, and research.

CTI is an empirically supported, time-limited, case management model designed to prevent homelessness and foster recovery among vulnerable people during periods of significant transition. During such periods, which may include both the move from an institution to the community as well as the transition from homelessness to housing, people often have difficulty re-establishing themselves with access to needed supports. CTI works in two main ways: by providing direct emotional and practical assistance during the critical time of transition and by strengthening the individual’s ties to services and ongoing social supports. Despite its time-limited approach, CTI aims to exert a long-term impact through building enduring connections to sources of support that will remain in place after the intervention ends.

Originally developed with significant support from the National Institute of Mental Health, CTI has been subjected to numerous tests of its impact, including multiple randomized trials. On the strength of this evidence, CTI is listed in SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Policies and Programs and the Best Practices Portal of the Public Health Agency of Canada. The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy recently recognized the model as meeting its most rigorous “top tier” standard as an intervention “shown in well-designed and implemented randomized controlled trials, preferably conducted in typical community settings, to produce sizable, sustained benefits to participants and/or society.”

Dan Herman, Professor and Director of the Center for the Advancement of CTI

Professor Daniel Herman, who has been leading research and dissemination activities related to CTI for the past decade, directs the Center. “We are very excited to finally have a ‘home base’ for the model, which we can use to help build capacity among providers to effectively adapt and implement CTI with a variety of populations at high risk of homelessness and other adverse outcomes,” Herman says. “We look forward to working with members of the National Center to build interest in CTI in social work schools nationally and the community agencies they work with.”

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead at the National Center
Special thanks to Dan Herman for contributing to the content of this blog post.

The National Center Partners with the NY Coalition for Homeless Youth

On November 18th the NY Coalition for Homeless Youth held their annual conference on the UAlbany campus. The Coalition is a statewide advocacy organization that develops and implements programs and services for youth and their families, advocates for resources, and disseminates expertise and knowledge related to homeless and runaway youth (RHY). In partnership with the National Center, the Coalition hosted agencies from across New York State, as well as representatives from the Office of Mental Health (OMH), the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The conference provided a forum for presentations and discussions on a variety of topics, including:

  • program planning and evaluation;
  • funding and sustainability;
  • anti-human trafficking efforts;
  • LGBTQ and gender identity services implications;
  • social media; and
  • statewide policy challenges and advocacy.

Additionally, Heather Larkin (Co-director of the National Center) presented on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and developing ACE-informed programs. And, Amanda Aykanian (Doctoral Assistant at the National Center) facilitated a roundtable discussion on identifying funding sources and understanding opportunities available under Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

Policy advocacy was a common talking point at the conference. A major component of the Coalition’s current efforts is advocating for an additional $2.4M for RHY services in New York State. This money would be a partial restoration of the state’s RHY budget, which has been cut significantly over the past several years. The cost of an emergency or transitional living youth shelter bed ranges from $20,000 to $35,000, depending on the location, and this money would be used to re-open beds in both urban and rural locations. This is a big task, but the presence of OMH, OCFS, and HUD at the conference is encouraging.

The National Center hopes to continue supporting the work of the Coalition, and looks forward to future collaborations. An upcoming blog post will highlight the Coalition’s work and priorities. In the meantime, check out their website and like them on Facebook. Below are some pictures from the conference.

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Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead at the National Center