MAC students research local homelessness issue, provide valuable data

Research methods classes at the graduate level can be very intimidating. But if the outcome is meaningful, all the work and worry are worth it.

Students in Ronee Rice’s Applied Research & Qualitative Methods in Counseling class took on two major projects this semester, and one of them – the 2022 Seneca County Homeless Needs Assessment – has important implications for greater understanding of the issue locally and for providing data that will be useful for funding future services for the homeless population.

On Tuesday night, the 12 students who worked on the homelessness survey gave their final presentation in Herbster Chapel. For their project, they partnered with Transformation Life Center, the newly opened homeless shelter serving Seneca County, to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment, the goal of which was to identify and prioritize needs in the county and provide recommendations for future services and strategies to serve the homeless.

“One of my goals is to give our students an opportunity to conduct a study that’s really meaningful, to make a difference,” Ronee said. “What the students produced is very high quality. I was impressed with all the work they put into it and how seriously they’ve taken it.”

After listening to their thorough presentation, which spelled out methodology, findings, analysis and recommendations, the students received some positive feedback from Challie Briihl, executive director of the Transformation Life Center. Challie is excited to have the data the students collected.

“I know how much work was involved in a very short amount of time,” Challie said. “I have never seen this kind of assessment done in Seneca County.

“This data is crucial and needed for our county and our providers. It will help the providers as they seek additional funding.”

The research

To understand the specific needs of the homeless, the students set out to collect information from local providers about their perception of available resources. Working with Challie, they developed a community cross-sectional needs assessment that polled 158 local service providers within 41 agencies; 51 of the providers returned the survey (32%). They asked a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions, collecting their data from Oct. 18-Nov. 1.

Their goals were to understand the specific needs of the homeless, to collect information on local providers’ perceptions of resource availability and to identify gaps or barriers in the services. 

The students also conducted an extensive literature review to understand the factors that contribute to homelessness, including mental health, substance abuse, trauma, domestic violence, criminality, race, gender and disability and transportation.

The findings

To no one’s surprise, the students concluded that homelessness is a significant problem in the area. While the majority of the providers know who to call if someone needs help with housing, they also agreed that Seneca County is underfunded and understaffed. 

According to the results of their study, “Some homeless needs are being met; however, that only applies if you are a single woman who has children.”

“There are many other populations whose needs are not being met due to a lack of resources and services available to them.”

The recommendations

Interpreting the survey results and contemporary literature, the students identified five takeaways – areas of strength and areas for improvement. Based on the responses of the providers, recommendations include:
•    Attention to training and education
•    Funding sources
•    Coordination of care
•    Awareness of diversity issues
•    Additional research 

As with any research, limitations often surface. Low response rate, a lack of diversity of among the respondents, and the wording of specific questions were identified.

What’s next?

“Hopefully, this data helps our community to grow and expand on the amazing work already taking place,” Ronee said.

The students agreed additional research on the issue is needed. An important next step would be to survey homeless individuals about their needs and access to resources. To that end, they created a survey specifically geared for clients and provided that to Challie for her use.

Students participating in the project included: Olivia Bauer, Mason Coyle, Stella DeWitt, Karina Matthews, Anna Queen, Savanna “Noel” Ufferman, Caleb Clark, Giorgio Ferrario, Carrie George, Nicolas Smith, Nathan Trhlin and Korinne Vera Alfaro.

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