The UT Austin School of Social Work routinely collaborates with local service agencies to develop and implement homelessness-related projects in the Austin area.
In addition to research, evaluation, and consulting efforts, faculty at the school have created community-based learning opportunities that help students translate the concepts and theories discussed in class into practical applications for improving the quality of life in their community. These are some of the community-based learning opportunities at the school:
SUPPORTING POINT-IN-TIME COUNT PLANNING
This initiative is in collaboration with Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), which serves at the lead agency for the Austin/Travis County Continuum of Care for the Homeless, an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Professor Calvin Streeter is a member of ECHO’s board of directors and has led several class projects where students collaborate with this organization. Most recently, students enrolled in Dynamics of Organizations and Communities canvassed areas outside ECHO’s normal Point-in-Time (PIT) Count 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.
RESEARCHING CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES AND DISTRICTS
Students enrolled in another of professor Streeter’s 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 ten city council districts, to help educate candidates about the homeless population living in their district. Students also produced a factsheet with data on Austin/Travis county as a whole and on each of the ten city council districts.
CREATING SOCIAL-JUSTICE-THEMED DOCUMENTARIES
This initiative is in collaboration with Austin’s Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH). ARCH provides emergency shelter, case management, housing programs, and other services.
Undergraduate social work students in professor Miguel Ferguson‘s class go on on a field trip to ARCH. Students complete ten hours of community service during the semester; many students complete these hours at ARCH. They 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 social work faculty.
By Amanda Aykanian, originally published in the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services blog. The UT Austin School of Social Work is a partner of this entity.