Tusculum class conducts 'point-in-time' survey of the homeless in Northeast Tennessee
Maps showing the general areas in eight Northeast Tennessee counties where homeless people live and where service agencies are located were presented recently to the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness (ARCH) by Tusculum College.
The maps, which will be used in mandatory reports to the federal government regarding grant funding, are the result of work by a psychology class and the college's Center for Civic Advancement. Students in a Senior Seminar course, taught by Psychology Professor Dr. Melinda Dukes, conducted a "point-in-time survey" in November to count the number of homeless in the region.
The data collected were used to produce the maps, presented during ARCH's January monthly meeting by Vanessa Boyd, who coordinates community mapping projects for Tusculum's Center for Civic Advancement.
Todd Barkman, director of ARCH's Homeless Management Information System, said the maps were "outstanding" and that copies of them have already been requested by Bristol and Johnson City officials and by a representative from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development based in Knoxville, who indicated he would like to have something similar produced for that area.
ARCH - a private/public partnership of service providers, community leaders, government entities, representatives of the faith community, and businesses - is designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as the "Continuum of Caring" agent for eight counties in Northeast Tennessee - Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington. Service providers to the homeless can apply for Continuum of Caring grant funding from HUD for their programs. To date, more than $2.6 million in federal funding has come to Northeast Tennessee through these grants, including $643,000 in new funding announced at ARCH's January meeting.
As part of its role as the Continuum of Caring agent, ARCH is required to submit reports about the homeless and services for them in the region to HUD. However, since it is a volunteer organization, ARCH does not have the resources to do all the research needed to compile the necessary data for these reports. It is this research process that has been aided by the efforts of the Tusculum College students in such activities as the recent point-in-time survey.
The psychology class conducted the survey of homeless in the eight counties over a 24-hour period prior to Thanksgiving. The 24-hour time period for the survey is used to reduce the chance of double counting individuals.
Students, matched with team leaders from service agencies, went throughout the region, asking survey questions to the homeless they encountered. The survey questions included ones about how long and how many times a person has been homeless and what circumstances or medical conditions contributed to the individual's homelessness.
The class members found homeless people living on the streets, in camps, and in shelters. "It was an amazing experience for the students," Dr. Dukes said. "They were able to talk to homeless individuals and to see camps where homeless people live." She noted that the students also had opportunities to interact with professionals at the service agencies and get a first-hand look at careers available to people who major in psychology or related disciplines.
The students also recorded data about the locations where homeless people were living, using hand-held GIS (Global Information System) units. This information was used to designate on the maps the general areas where homeless individuals live. Paired with the location of the service providers, the information collected helps show the accessibility of services to the homeless.
A total of 241 surveys of homeless individuals were conducted with some administered by service providers. These surveys were then coupled with reports by service providers of homeless individuals known to them who were not surveyed for a total estimate of 522 homeless people in the region. This count is considered an estimate because of the difficulty in producing an absolute count.
Once the surveys were conducted, the students cleaned up the data, entered them into a database, analyzed the results, and presented a report of the survey findings and their analysis to ARCH in December.
Information from the database was also used in creating the maps by the Center for Civic Advancement, which has produced similar maps through its Stepping Stone program, a collaborative network of college faculty and students working closely with community residents and organizations to develop an accurate picture of needs and assets, problems, existing programs and service gaps in the local community.
Since 2001, Tusculum students have worked with ARCH. In the past few years, students in Dr. Dukes' classes have conducted community-based research that has helped secure grant funding for an ARCH partner agency, created a brochure about the point-in-time survey for the coalition, and designed the survey instrument used in the point-in-time survey. Students in service-learning courses have also worked with agencies that provide services to the homeless.