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.

Homeless Youth Research at Saint Mary’s College: A Pilot Study That Became A National Study

The Social Work Program at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, is involved in researching issues of homelessness, with a focus on youth homelessness. The Social Work Program is collaborating with Youth Services Bureau of St. Joseph County (South Bend, IN) to find the best practices in providing services to homeless youth. This research collaboration involves Dr. Frances Bernard Kominkiewicz (Saint Mary’s College), Meredith Mersits and Kelly Crooks (Saint Mary’s Social Work Program alumnae), Liza Felix (Saint Mary’s Social Work student), and Lauren Kominkiewicz, MSW (Saint Mary’s BSW alum). Dr. Kominkiewicz and Lauren Kominkiewicz also conducted previous research on homeless youth, which they presented in Cologne, Germany.

Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County approached Dr. Kominkiewicz in 2014 with the concern that it was particularly difficult to locate homeless youth; therefore, making it difficult to conduct homeless youth counts, needs assessment, and meet the needs of homeless youth. It is well documented that homeless youth experience many issues related to housing insecurity.

A pilot study was initiated that shed light on the issue of youth homelessness in the South Bend area through qualitative research with local agency practitioners working with homeless youth. A quantitative and qualitative study is now being conducted on a national basis. Research methods involve telephone interviews and online surveys with representatives of organizations working with homeless youth. This research project quickly became a much larger project as many individuals across the United States heard about it and asked to be interviewed; a snowball sample was therefore utilized.

The purposes of the study were to:

  1. Increase knowledge of locating, interviewing, and emerging intervention needs with homeless youth.
  2. Develop a homeless youth social work assessment model to intervene with homeless youth based on the research data collected in this study. 
  3. Develop a working definition for homeless youth that will assist agencies and organizations in applying for funding resources to locate, interview, and intervene with homeless youth.

The study was designed to identify best practices for locating and intervening with homeless youth, including interviewing homeless youth, in order to assess and meet their needs. This research will increase knowledge about the methods and techniques used nationally in locating homeless youth through youth counts and other processes, including homeless youth interview questions that are integral to learning about the needs of homeless youth. A homeless youth assessment model, based on the data gathered, is under development.

The results of this study will be most useful to social work researchers, policy makers, and agencies and organizations in the discussion and continued development of best practices for locating, interviewing, and providing resources to homeless youth. The project has major ramifications in assisting organizations in finding the most beneficial practices for working with homeless youth. Additionally, developing a uniform definition of youth homelessness would be helpful for policy and service development and when applying for funding.

Blog Post Author: Frances Bernard Kominkiewicz, Ph.D., Professor of Social Work, Chair, Department of Social Work and Gerontology, and Director, Social Work Program, at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana.

Like this post?
Check out this one on University of Houston’s YouthCount 2.0!

Want more info?
Visit our website to learn more about us and our National Homelessness Social Work Initiative.

On social media?
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

University of Houston, YouthCount 2.0!: Counting and Surveying Homeless Youth in Harris County

houstonpic
Members of the YouthCount 2.0! Data Collection Team

Young people are often missed in traditional point in time counts that rely on visual identification, because they don’t want to appear homeless and are less visible on the streets. In addition, they often double-up with friends, rather than seeking services at shelters where they would be easy to identify and count. Sarah Narendorf, Assistant Professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, led a project team that included Diane Santa Maria at the University of Texas School of Nursing and Yoonsook Ha from Boston University to find, count, and survey homeless youth, ages 13-24, in Harris County, Texas in November 2014. YouthCount 2.0! was a response to calls from the Houston community to pilot new methods for finding homeless youth and to learn more about their service needs.  The project was funded by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Fund to End Homelessness.

YouthCount 2.0! used several new strategies to find and count homeless youth:

  1. An extended count period of 4 weeks.
  2. Respondent-driven sampling, asking youth to recruit others they knew in similar situations.
  3. Surveying at shelters, through street outreach, and at magnet events – at events designed for homeless youth and those that were not specific to homeless youth but where youth in unstable housing might be identified.
  4. Use of social work and nursing students to assist in surveying.
  5. Involvement of homeless and formerly homeless youth to help with locating and identifying youth.
  6. Expanded eligibility criteria beyond that used for adults by HUD – youth were counted if they were staying with friends or family, but not sure where they would stay in 30 days.
  7. Use of homeless management information system (HMIS) data to identify service locations we should visit to conduct the survey.
  8. Partnerships with service providers and collaboration with a community advisory board to guide the data collection and interpretation of results.

During the 4-week count period, the study team visited 47 different locations including shelters, magnet events, and street outreach locations. A total of 74 volunteers assisted with the count, 60 were social work students who received extra-credit in their research class. The project surveyed 420 youth directly and added another 212 youth to the count number through reviewing HMIS data.  Detailed data about the youth was obtained through a self-administered survey with over 100 questions that took 15-20 minutes to complete.

Through the two counts, there were successes and challenges that can help others looking to better count homeless youth.

Successes included:

  • Use of social work students. The students learned a lot about the situations of homeless youth and were exposed to service agencies and communities of which they hadn’t been aware.
  • The extended count period and expanded eligibility that enabled us to find out about youth that would not have been included in previous counts.
  • One Voice Texas, an advocacy organization, was part of the community advisory board, which enabled a smooth connection for results to be used in legislative session. YouthCount 2.0! data on homeless youth were noticed by legislators in relation to two different bills that passed into law.

Challenges included:

  • Respondent-driven sampling did not yield many new participants. It appears that the logistics were prohibitive. Asking youth that are focused on survival to remember to recruit friends to a study just didn’t work well unless it could be very immediate.
  • Some youth populations were clearly missed. The survey was available in Spanish, but none of the youth identified preferred to take the survey in Spanish. It was also difficult to connect with youth that were identified by schools. Events immediately after school nearby failed to attract many of those identified within the schools in spite of close collaborations with homeless liaisons to encourage participation.

For more information on YouthCount 2.o! visit the project website, which also includes a full report of the findings. The study team is currently writing-up the study and results for submission to a peer-reviewed journal and talking about next steps for YouthCount 3.0!

Blog Post Author: Sarah Narendorf, Assistant Professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work

Like this post?
Check out this one on how the University of Houston is addressing LGBTQ youth homelessness.

Want more info?
Visit our website to learn more about us and our National Homelessness Social Work Initiative.

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

CSU Sacramento Professor and Students Help Conduct Project on Transient Homelessness

Research Team: Antoine Watkins (MSW II), Dr. Baiocchi, Russ Read (MSW II) and Matthew Foy (sociology MA)
Research Team: Antoine Watkins (MSW II), Dr. Baiocchi, Russ Read (MSW II) and Matthew Foy (sociology MA)

Dr. Arturo Baiocchi (assistant professor of social work at California State University, Sacramento), along with graduate students Matthew Foy (sociology), Russ Reed, and Antoine Watkins (social work) are helping to conduct a community needs assessment in Sacramento’s River District. The project, a collaboration with Sacramento Steps Forward (SSF), has a focus on homeless adults who have recently traveled to Sacramento.

SSF connects individuals experiencing homelessness to a wide array of housing services and programs in the community. In January, SSF began a new street outreach and coordinated entry program—Common Centsto engage chronically homeless individuals.  Equipped with an online-assessment tool, outreach workers are able to quickly assess individuals and coordinate their entry into appropriate programs. Since its launch, the program has interfaced with over 1,200 individuals and assisted over 200 transition into a housing program. More broadly, SSF has helped house over 2,000 individuals over the last year.

Matthew Foy, sociology graduate student, conducting in-person interviews with individuals at a homeless encampment near the bus-station.
Matthew Foy, sociology graduate student, conducting in-person interviews with individuals at a homeless encampment near the bus-station.

SSF recently asked Dr. Baiocchi and his students to help facilitate an exploratory project to understand motivations and factors that bring homeless individuals to the River District and Sacramento more broadly.  Because of its proximity to bus and train stations, as well as some service providers, the River District is often perceived to be an area where homeless individuals congregate. However, little research or data exist to support this assumption. Moreover, it is unclear why some individuals experiencing housing instability travel to Sacramento, and whether many, if any, do so to access services in the city.

The project is being conducted in conjunction with SSF’s outreach efforts in the River District during November and December of 2015 and will explore the following questions:

  1. What proportion of individuals contacted by SSF in the River District have traveled to Sacramento within the last 30 days?
  2. What motivates individuals to travel to Sacramento (e.g. seeking employment, passing through, central location, access to services, etc.)?
  3. What are the perceptions that individuals have of Sacramento, with respect to available services and supports?
  4. What new types of services and supports would these individuals benefit from, and can SSF provide these benefits?

The project hopes to explore the complex realities underpinning the ‘magnet myth’ of social services; the perception that increasing access to services attracts more homeless people to an area. More broadly, the project hopes to shed light on the motives/factors that contribute to transient homelessness in Northern California, particularly with respect to housing-insecure young adults traveling by bus and the challenges they experience accessing services and supports. Insights gleaned from the project will also help SSF more effectively tailor its outreach services to address the short and long term needs of its clientele, particularly those that have recently traveled to Sacramento.

Interior of greyhound bus station through which some individuals travel to Sacramento.
Interior of greyhound bus station through which some individuals travel to Sacramento.

Dr. Baiocchi and his students are helping train SSF staff on research methodologies associated with survey design, sampling, interviewing protocols, and qualitative approaches. Students will also be helping SSF contextualize their findings with respect to the research literature on issues related to transience, homelessness, and young adults. Students will help SSF facilitate a public presentation of key findings of the project to the community in Spring of 2016.

Blog Post Author: Arturo Baiocchi, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Work at California State University, Sacramento

Nazareth College Supports Project Homeless Connect

Nazareth College student and 11-year Army veteran, Jay Rivera, assisting a guest.
Nazareth College student and 11-year Army veteran, Jay Rivera, assisting a guest.

On any given day Rochester, NY has about 700 individuals who are homeless, and hundreds more who are unstably housed. Partnerships between universities and communities can be powerful tools for addressing homelessness and related problems. Professors in Nazareth College’s Department of Social Work, located in Rochester and an affiliate of the National Center, collaborate with local service providers to support an annual Project Homeless Connect (PHC) event.

The PHC model was designed to end homelessness through improving service access and volunteer engagement. The model was developed in San Francisco as a way to bring service providers and the homeless or near homeless together by hosting events in large municipal facilities easily accessible by potential clients. PHC events connect consumers (referred to as “guests”) to services that may otherwise not be easily and immediately accessible, such as dental care, medical services, eye care, housing information, benefit applications, and legal advocacy. These events are used as a way to connect guests to needed services so they have better outcomes and use fewer high cost-services.

A collaborative group of providers in Rochester has hosted four PHC events thus far. Students from local social work programs volunteer their time, and numerous faculty have developed service-learning assignments to tap into the learning that is afforded by this important community wide project. Specifically, two of Nazareth College’s social work professors are greatly involved in supporting PHC events.

homeless-connect-jed-metzger_web
Associate Professor Jed Metzger assisting a guest.

Jed Metzger, Associate Professor, coordinates volunteers for the event and recruits students from local social work programs, making Project Homeless Connect a day of service. Each social work student (as well as some outstanding AmeriCorps volunteers) is trained and then paired with a PHC guest.

Leanne Wood Charlesworth, Program Director of the Nazareth College BSW program, has long been interested in homelessness research and service, and recently carried out a photovoice project that provided cameras to individuals to document their lived experience as they faced homelessness. Dr. Charlesworth provides data collection leadership at the PHC events. Her social work research class is a service learning course; the students develop and administer PHC entrance and exit surveys with guests. Guided by Dr. Charlesworth, students analyze the data and present findings to the community and planning team to inform future PHC events.

The fifth Project Homeless Connect in Rochester, NY was held on September 15th and is seen by organizers as another powerful success. Data is still being analyzed, but over 700 guests came to the event with roughly 48% of those guests fitting the federal definition of homeless on that day. Exit surveys with guests support the idea that obtaining all the services they need in a single day at a single location is just plain better for them. Identification services were cited as the most immediately helpful, followed by medical and legal services. The organizers are also thrilled that the consistent outreach resulted in representation from every school of social work in the Greater Rochester Area, as Roberts Wesleyan participated for the first time. The College at Brockport increased their participation and brought two school busloads of social worker student volunteers. Nazareth College continues to have nearly 100% of all BSW and MSW (the MSW students are also students at the College of Brockport) in attendance. Through the use of video technology, all were able to be trained, and this increased the ability of the volunteers to respond effectively. Given the success of Project Homeless Connect, the organizers will try to hold mini PHC events three times a year. This will be done through a new not-for-profit that was started by some former MSW students who have gone on to make working with the homeless their practice specialty.

For more on Project Homeless Connect, click here.

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead at the National Center
Special thanks to Leanne Wood Charlesworth and Jed Metzger for contributing content. Photos courtesy of Nazareth College.

Did you like this post? If so, you may like this one on the UBuffalo School of Social Work.