July project update

Here’s a rundown of our projects and tasks for July:

1. Friends Academy/Center for Education Innovation (CEI) evaluation

We recently wrapped up a survey of elementary school teachers across the New Bedford Public Schools in order to determine the degree to which their feedback about things like technology, collaboration, professional development, and instruction is different than their peers who are working with CEI. We’re also crunching numbers to learn about the impact of CEI’s program on the performance of the students of participating teachers.

2. LifeWork Project

We’ll be writing the first year evaluation report at the end of this month, a report that will document the impact this program has had on participants’ academic performance, career paths, finances, and well-being.

3. New Bedford Regeneration Committee

We’re also approaching the report-writing stage of this project. The report will outline a set of action steps recommended by committee members for regenerating the economy of the city and the region.

4. Health Data SouthCoast

The network of organizations that supported our development of a website that provides easy access to regional and municipal health data is getting ready to publicly launch the site, so we won’t preclude their efforts here. All we’ll say is that it’s ready to go!

5. Taunton HOPE VI

We’re conducting our third and final resident focus group tonight, with the goal of learning about how the program has impacted residents’ abilities to enroll in job training programs and access employment opportunities. Next, we’ll go about updating data to compare current metrics to 2012 baselines in the areas of housing, economy, socioeconomic status, and demographics.

6. NEW: Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor study

Thanks to a just-awarded grant from the Garfield Foundation, we’ll be spending the next six months studying New Bedford’s Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor and the degree to which it influences the local economy. This project will involve data collection and analysis, survey research, and engaging with neighborhood stakeholders to obtain objective information with which to advance the neighborhood’s revitalization.

 

SOC 350 blog post – Child homelessness in New Bedford

Child homelessness in New Bedford

Authors: Jessica Jorge, Carmelle Phillipe, Michaela Mello,students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)


Homelessness is experienced by children, families and adults with or without disabilities. Homelessness affects all people whether they are homeless themselves or know of someone who has become homeless. Although homelessness can affect all people it occurs disproportionately among people of color. Our research specifically concentrated on children and their education. Being a homeless child, it can have a great impact on a child’s performance and education. As a result a homeless child is less likely to be successful in their studies. This was our hypothesis that we developed in order to help us achieve a better understanding to our main research question; “What is it like to be a homeless child going to school?”

In order to answer this question, we also came up with sub-questions to better understand the issues of child homelessness. These sub-questions included:

  • How is homelessness defined?
  • Who experiences homelessness?
  • What is the homeless population like in New Bedford?
  • How did these children become homeless?
  • How does being homeless affect a child’s education and learning?
  • How are their families affected as a whole?

The research methods we used to answer these questions were interviews, observations, archival research, and data analysis. Through these approaches, we were able to gain insight into the issue of child homelessness. It also helped us to answer our research questions as we were able to see how a child is affected by homelessness and the impact that homelessness has on a child’s education.

Below is an example of some of the data we used in developing answers for our research question. There are a total of fourteen middle and high schools in New Bedford. Of those schools we were able to compare the differences between the school, district and state. We concentrated on three of the most known schools; Keith Middle School, Roosevelt Middle School and New Bedford High School. The graph below is just one of the graphs we used for Keith Middle School. The data we found we were able to use and analyze the differences in the percentages of those with limited English proficiency, low income and students in special education. The low income percentage for each schools where extremely high which we found crucial to our findings of our overall research to why the dropout rates and homelessness is extremely high in New Bedford.

child homelessnessThis data represents the risk behaviors and different factors that can affect a student in school and the comparison between students who are homeless and who are not. In the Protective factors section on the graph (below) we see that homeless students do not receive the necessary help and support as do housed students. Risk behaviors shows that homeless students develop a higher risk for drug abuse and gang violence. This was another important finding that helps us show the many influences that can affect a student’s education and the negative effects for a homeless student as well.

child homelessness2Below is also some data analysis that we found helpful for our research:

  • In the 2012-2013 school year, 432 students in the New Bedford Public Schools were homeless
  • This equals 3.4% of the school district
  • This is double the state percentage (1.7%)
  • In the United States, 1 in 45 children are considered homeless
  • Child and Family Homelessness is considered an “escalating crisis” and an “epidemic” but data is difficult to obtain because the homeless population is largely considered “invisible”

There are multiple definitions of homelessness; federal, state, McKinney-Vento or a person’s personal opinion. They all have one thing in common, that the realization that homelessness affects everyone and it has a great impact on a community.

Through the findings of our project, we were able to see that homeless children have many educational disadvantages compared to children who are housed. We stress the concept of more public policies for the issue of homeless children and families. There are many things that can be done to help and support these homeless children however without the public policies to be enforced there would be no change. Support services that enhance and expand the academic environment for children, like Horizons for Homeless Children, is needed to give extra support to children who are homeless. Children who are homeless need more academic support than children who are not homeless because they not only face struggles in their academics but they also face emotional, physical and social issues. It is necessary to implement educational programs into homeless shelters in order to end the cycle of homelessness for children.

Homelessness is not a choice or an option.Homelessness can be a temporary or a lifetime living situation. Improving public policies would provide more programs which focus on kids who are homeless. Another idea is a program which can guide the parents of homeless children to help improve their living situation and focus more on education. Another concept would be similar to the no child left behind act but by having homeless children survivors become mentors to those who are currently in shelters or homeless. Limitations to our project was not being able to survey as much children as we would like. That limitation did not hinder us from finding an exceptional amount of information to strengthen our findings.

This project has contributed to our academic/professional growth because it has allowed us to do research on a global issue but narrow it down to a neighborhood such as New Bedford. Researching homelessness within a local neighborhood has opened doors of awareness of how we can make change possible. Knowing the impact on what homelessness can do to a child has allowed us to know that we can be a helping hand as well. Academically the research has enhanced our interpersonal skills with one another and our researching skills to reach out to programs like Fall River Family Center and Horizons for Homeless Children which allow us to know about resources which we can refer to students of New Bedford.

SOC 350 blog post – Just another day on the street: homelessness in New Bedford

Just another day on the street: homelessness in New Bedford

Authors:  Asia Strothers, Azia Johnson, Rachelle Jeanty, and Samantha Panek, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)


For our research topic, we focused on homeless single adults in the city of New Bedford. Homelessness is a major issue in the city of New Bedford and has been for many years. What is homelessness? Homelessness refers to the lack of stable, safe, and permanent residence that is fit for human habitation. This is an important issue to cover because it affects many people on a day-to-day basis. It is also important for understanding the causes and circumstances of people who become homeless. The question that our group set out to answer was how does it feel to be a homeless individual in New Bedford?

We went about answering our questions by visiting homeless shelters in the city that welcomed our presence. We visited two shelters, which were Sister Rose House and the Donovan House. We were able to interview the program directors about the type of residents in the shelter, the procedure for a person that has been accepted to stay at the shelter, and their personal solutions for homelessness in New Bedford. We found that the causes for most of the homelessness in the city of New Bedford are loss of job, domestic violence, disability (physical and mental), and substance/drug abuse.

homelessness

Here is a graph that represents the number of homeless people living in New Bedford and Fall River. This graph clearly shows how homeless individuals make up most of the homeless population in New Bedford, while homeless families make up most of the homeless population in Fall River.

Based on our findings we concluded that the major reason for homelessness in the city of New Bedford is the lack of services and resources needed to help people of this underprivileged and impoverished class. As a group, we believe one solution for homelessness would be to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. Not many people can afford housing in these areas, especially working a minimum wage job. For many people living in this city it seems that the only possible way to live comfortably while eliminating issues is by living on assistance whether it is housing, food stamps, etc. The two program directors that we interviewed came up with their own solutions for homelessness in the city of New Bedford. The program director from Sister Rose House solution is for the city to facilitate the homeless to help them with their job search. She recommended that the city make use of the vacant buildings to create career centers. “All you need is heat and lights,”are her exact words. She claims that this will give the homeless something to do rather than sitting around and loitering throughout the day. As for the program director of Donovan’s House solution, she believes there should be stricter laws regarding drugs and domestic violence. Her words, “The system is failing, giving too much time for abusers to be free.”Coincidentally a day after we conducted this interview, the Massachusetts House passed a bill on domestic violence. It included new bail guidelines and tougher penalties for abusers. As for the city as a whole’s solution, New Bedford nonprofits were recently awarded a grant of $1.8 million to fight homelessness. The competitive awards were made through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Continuum of Care Funding. With that being said, grants are one of the ways nonprofit organizations such as Sister Rose House and Donovan House receive funding.

Limitations of our study included not being able to conduct interviews with actual homeless persons. We felt that it would be intrusive and offensive to interview the homeless that we came across on the street. Another limitation we faced was that we were unable to conduct interviews with homeless residents in the shelters to do confidentiality issues. We were really looking forward to interviewing homeless to get a better understanding of their day-to-day routine. We also wanted to interview them because it would make for a more accurate representation of the personal struggles and dilemmas a homeless person living in this city faces.

Our initial interest in this project was sparked by our own personal experiences with the homeless. Over the course of the semester, we realized the prevalence of homelessness in New Bedford, the numerous factors that cause the issue, and the programs that help. In addition to obtaining more insight on the problem of homelessness, we also improved our research, organization and collaboration skills. The limitations and problems we encountered in conducting interviews and acquiring information may have been disappointing and frustrating, but will aid us in improving on future projects and endeavors. We also gained even more empathy and compassion for those struggling with homelessness and a great appreciation for those whose efforts make a difference in the lives of the homeless. This experience has inspired us to raise awareness about the issues that cause homelessness and join the efforts in preventing and solving homelessness in the city.

SOC 350 blog post – Family homelessness in New Bedford

Family homelessness in New Bedford

Authors: Fabiola Antoine, Genesis Barrientos, and Leslie Mercure, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)


 

In our first class we learned that we would need to choose a project and present our findings to the class. As a group we were very excited about the topic of “Why are there so many Homeless in New Bedford” and immediately knew this was going to be the project for us. The topic of homelessness or poverty has always struck a chord with each of us. Growing up in poor neighborhoods was what ignited our curiosity. Being poor is not fun. Being homeless and poor are even worse. Homelessness can affect any of us; it can happen to you, it can be someone you love dearly. Some people are just a paycheck away from being in the same situation others have found themselves in and thought “how did I get here?”

Homelessness is an issue that can affect anyone and any city. Shelters have recently been seeing an increase in homeless families. We are defining a family as a least one parent with one child or a pregnant mother. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that in 2013 37.8 per cent of the American homeless population was people in families. In the city of New Bedford there were 97 homeless families and 257 homeless individuals in 2011. Our main objective was to find out how being homeless affects the family. Also, what are some of the causes that contribute to the homelessness of a family?

The first step taken towards answering the research questions was looking at the background of homelessness in the United States, Massachusetts and then a more narrow focus on the city of New Bedford. The City of New Bedford’s Community Development website has a lot of information on the City of New Bedford in the Community Development Consolidated Plan (revised for 2014). This plan outlines the homeless by several different factors: race, color, level of poverty, etc. It also lists all of the services that are provided to the homeless and what is being done to help “band aid” the situation. We all scoured the internet for any type of accurate information regarding the homeless. It’s unfortunate to say this but it was really easy to find information. Homelessness is a nationwide issue.

Local shelters were contacted in hope of being able to speak to a homeless family. Unfortunately we were not able to sit and speak with anyone at the shelters due to privacy issues. This hampered our research in that we wanted to get a firsthand look and feel to how it is to be homeless. We also wanted to be able to find out how the person got to that point in their life, what their future plans were and what they think should be done to help the homeless. Because we were not allowed to speak with anyone, this could not be done.

However, we attained background information from the shelter employees. We asked questions such as: how long the shelter had been open, how many clients live in the shelter, who was allowed in the shelter, how long could one stay in the shelter and how the shelter was funded? Some of the answers we received were interesting, the answers vary from each shelter; they were able to give us the information we needed. They were funded differently and hold different quantity of family. We thanked everyone that we called and asked two of the shelters if we could come by to just visit the location and get a feel for what the homeless dealt with on a daily basis. Sheltered homelessness is a better situation for anyone especially for a family. It beats living out on the streets. The centers were clean and the people were polite and seemed very caring. It was an eye opening experience and also sad at the same time. There is no privacy in the shelter. Everyone is in pretty close quarters.

Housing is one of the causes of homelessness and low cost housing attracts people to New Bedford. A lack of jobs then causes people and families to become homeless. High unemployment rates, lack of skills and/or education, domestic violence and long waiting lists for housing supplements that can lead to homelessness. In New Bedford the average homeless family consists of two people. These families were also more likely to be made up of a woman and a child.

Being a homeless family has many consequences for both the parent/s and the children involved. Through research we found that the consequences can be emotional and physical. Some shelters only allow women and children causing a family to break up if the husband is in the picture. A family takes this opportunity for the safety of their children but it then leaves the man out in the streets to fend for himself. Women’s shelters tend to shy away from allowing men since most of the women they help are victims of domestic violence. The Women’s Center of New Bedford has two family shelters and each with the capacity of holding six families. Families are allowed to stay there as long as they need but the longest stay was two years. They provide numerous services for the mother and the children. These programs range from legal advocacy to helping with doctor’s appointments and housing.

In conclusion, homelessness prevention is an essential element to end homelessness either locally or nationwide. In order to close the entry to homelessness, we come up with some strategies that can help both individuals and families. Such strategies include: creating more jobs in the underprivileged areas, increasing the minimum wage so parents can afford to support their family, create more housing programs and increasing the case management services substance abuse. This was an interesting learning project; we learned that homelessness is an undesirable condition that can affect us and the society in general.

SOC 350 blog posts – Affordable housing in New Bedford

Affordable Housing in New Bedford

Authors: Sayyida Jean-Charles, Michael P. McCarthy (Urban Initiative research assistant), and Ashley Hurley, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)


 

Introduction

For our service-learning project, we focused on the effectiveness of affordable housing in New Bedford. We wanted to know how many affordable housing units are available for low-income families, and if these low-income families are benefiting from their subsidized housing. This led us to ask the question, does New Bedford have effective affordable housing programs? We started our research by identifying the two major types of housing assistance. The first type, “project-based” housing, is owned by the federal, state, or local government agencies. The second type is “mobile” subsidies. These are provided to tenants and homeowners to make independent housing more affordable. The New Bedford Housing Authority oversees about 5,435 HUD subsidized housing units in New Bedford. About a third of the 5,435 HUD subsidized housing units are project-based and approximately more than half are mobile subsidies, such as housing choice or Section 8.

Methodology

The research for this question was based heavily on data provided by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). For our research, we stayed away from survey questions, feeling as if the subject was too personal for the participants. We thought we could answer our question best by looking at New Bedford’s Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI). We examined the application public housing authorities use to evaluate a low-income family’s eligibility. By examining this data and researching literature relating to this issue, we felt confident that we would be able to suggest possible policy measures to increase the overall effectiveness of affordable housing in New Bedford.

Research

In our examination of the literature surrounding affordable housing, its impact and effectiveness on the surrounding community, we frequently encounter the concept of a Neighborhood Condition Index (NCI). The NCI is created by comparing various indicators which are associated with healthy neighborhoods to the city baseline. In our case these were the poverty rate, housing burden rate, unemployment rate, the number of single parent families, rental housing stock, housing vacancy rate, amount of new residents (less than one year), as well as the neighborhood median income and rent. These ratios were calculated on a variable by variable basis, and then averaged by the total number of variables.

The resulting NCI number is then compared to the city average. In this case the city average is 1.0, and since we are dealing with variable which are mostly considered negative indicators of neighborhood conditions (meaning that a larger occurrence would be worse quality of life) any number larger than 1.0 means that the conditions of that particular area (in this case Census tract) are worse than the city as a whole. We adopted this strategy of analysis in order to examine the potentially adverse impact concentrations of affordable housing can have on the conditions of a neighborhood.

affordable-2 affordable-1

From our research, we know that New Bedford surpassed the state goal of having affordable housing represent 10 percent of the total housing stock. Indeed, New Bedford has an SHI of 11.8, meaning that percent its housing is considered affordable. However, this means New Bedford has 5,064 units of affordable housing. Our estimates, based on the Census’ American Community Survey, show that there are 8,325 extremely low-income households in New Bedford. Therefore, we feel it is safe to assert that only 61 percent (5,064/8,325) of them may be benefiting from the available affordable housing.

Affordable housing is not awarded to anyone there is an application process low-income families have to fill out. The Public Housing Authorities do full background checks on all applicants. This shows that not just any type of person can receive assistance.

Conclusion

New Bedford must make affordable housing an appealing place where people would like to live. In part, this can be accomplished by paying more attention to the city’s existing housing projects. It is important to make these housing projects more attractive and integrated into the surrounding community. Also, we feel that affordable housing should be made available for those who need it, where they need it instead of meeting a state minimum requirement.

Limitations

We were able to answer our question on the effectiveness of affordable housing. However, due to our approach and limited time, the research lacks the view point of low-income residents. To hear what they believe would be beneficial to them would be an insightful way to measure the effectiveness of their housing and the role it plays in not only providing a shelter but also in increasing individual efficacy. Another limitation was that we were unable to interview people that are in charge of handling the cases for affordable housing. In sense, our research lacks a significant qualitative portion.

Reflection

This research changed our views on affordable housing. Especially in regard to who receives low income housing; it has to be people who are clear of a criminal background and owe no more payments to previous housing authorities. Even though New Bedford exceeds the SHI goal, we learned that having this type of housing is beneficial to the family. Affordable housing is important because it can be used to place low-income families in better neighborhoods and integrated them into a mixed income community. Also, New Bedford’s affordable housing only benefits about 61% of its residents. The 5,064 affordable units do not satisfy the 8,325 extremely low income households, Therefore, we can expect the number of affordable housing units to further increase as Massachusetts implements more policies aimed at improving the quality of life of its residents who are stuck in a cycle of poverty.