Research and service bring homelessness into focus for students

McDaniel Social Work senior Teaira Scott of Baltimore performs “Don’t Sleep” her original free verse in front of Baltimore City Hall during the “A Bench is not a Bed” rally for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
December 04, 2012

Five Social Work majors learned firsthand that blending student-faculty collaborative research and community service in one project is a powerful combination.

In fact, it can be life-changing – not just for the 500 Baltimore homeless people the students with Social Work professor Jim Kunz helped interview for a Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) research study, but also for the students whose perspectives were forever transformed.

“The take-away from the summer project for me was learning just how important the research is in the advocacy and change processes as it relates to considering resolutions to real-life social issues,” says Teaira Scott, a Social Work senior from Baltimore. “Hearing the diversity in the experiences that people shared with us about their circumstances and struggles with homelessness and health, was very shocking.”

Stereotypical images dissolved as the students talked one on one with people for whom a bed, a home and a job were elusive.

“Going into the city to do interviews opened my perspectives,” says sophomore Lauren Hawkins of Forest Hill, Md. “The people I interviewed had an unmatched kindness and an enviable sense of wisdom.”

Research and service bring homelessness into focus for students
Sophomore Lauren Hawkins, Social Work professor Jim Kunz, Social Work Action Team faculty advisor Michelle Young and first-year student Noelle Gorman attend a rally in front of Baltimore City Hall during the “A Bench is not a Bed” rally for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

Since his summer research experience, Robert Simons, a junior from Randallstown, Md., has been educating the people around him as to the inaccuracies of common stereotypes.

“People want and need help. Most of the homeless individuals wanted to complete the survey because it was one small step for potential change,” he says.

During his sabbatical this fall, their professor has served as researcher in residence at HCH, analyzing the data collected over the summer for a report expected to be released early in 2013 with the project’s findings about people’s experiences with homelessness, both currently and while growing up.

Meanwhile, Kunz offered preliminary results of the summer research Nov. 8 as testimony before Baltimore City Council and successfully encouraged members to join in the national movement by declaring Nov. 10-18 Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in Baltimore City.

Council heard the take-away message loud and clear: Among those interviewed, there were “a significant number of folks who had never been homeless as a child. Rather, they had come from strong families, growing up in favorable circumstances, but had become homeless within the past three years because they had lost their jobs,” Kunz said.  “There was a small percentage of folks, however, who had been homeless as a child. While in the minority, they were particularly vulnerable and especially in need of services.”

McDaniel’s Social Work Action Team (SWAT) and Phi Alpha (Social Work) honor society with faculty advisor Michelle Young, an active group typically involved in service at shelters, soup kitchens and the like, collected winter coats and made plans to distribute them to the homeless during the Nov. 17 “A Bench is not a Bed” rally in front of City Hall. Later, Scott joined others for a Sleep Out at a nearby University of Maryland campus.

“The experience (of sleeping out) is a devastatingly unsettling reality for thousands in our city, and our sleeping out in under 40-degree temperatures was most real,” says Scott, who composed and performed during the sleep out a free verse to spark awareness of the plight of the homeless. “Beyond those experiences, it was inciting to talk with those who have the heart and head to help overcome the societal matters we are facing.

“When the group had settled in to attempt finding warmth and some sleep in their bags, some of us who couldn’t had a conversation centered on the most asked questions of the night: the what happens now and what must we do next?”

Perhaps one of McDaniel’s Social Work students will find the answer and the action.

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