Point In Time: Social Work and Mathematics Students Assist with Government Survey

By Becky St. Clair on January 31, 2019

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In late January 2019, several PUC classes assisted local agencies with a government-required Point In Time (PIT) count of the homeless in Clearlake, California. Students in Human Behavior in the Social Environment developed their basic client assessment skills; those in Program Evaluation conducted research on an existing community program; and students in Statistical Methods studied how statistics can provide insight into local communities and play a role in securing and directing resources. The Principles of Counseling class was invited to take part for hands-on experience.

“Research shows when we take classroom skills and bring them into real world experiences, our students, college, and community all benefit,” says Christy Mantz, instructor of social work and service-learning coordinator. “Students are able to see a need first-hand, utilize critical thinking skills to solve community or agency problems, and then act using theories they’ve learned in the classroom to address the community issues.”

According to Mantz, in 2018, Lake County reported 615 homeless persons to Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal entity which requires the PIT count. Of those 615, 591 were unsheltered due to a lack of emergency or temporary shelter in Lake County.

As the students surveyed people experiencing homelessness, Mantz says they heard stories about individuals and families losing their homes to the fires which have ravaged Lake County over several years. The students suggested collecting additional data about those whose homes were lost in order for the county to apply for funding.

“They will have the chance to make recommendations for additional survey questions, as well as explore funding opportunities in other social work courses, building on the work they’ve done with the Lake County Community,” Mantz explains. “Seeing the outcome of their work rather than just memorizing theories is rewarding for both our students and the community their serving.”

Tajh Rolle, a social work pre-nutrition and health sciences major, was among the students who participated in the count. She says the experience helped solidify concepts they were learning in class, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which states humans focus on taking care of their basic human needs before worrying about things like morality.

“We also saw the Person-in-Environment Theory in action,” Rolle says. “When helping people who are experiencing homelessness, it is important to understand their surroundings have an influence on their behavior, worldview, and personality.”

Mantz explains funding comes into the county from the federal government based on the information gathered by the PIT count, and is used to support local resources including transitional housing, emergency shelter, rapid re-housing, and other services to meet people’s basic needs.

“It surprised me even knowing they were more likely to get help if they took part of the survey,” Rolle recalls, “they were fearful and therefore hesitant to approach us or to share information about themselves.”

Students in Program Evaluation will be working with the Lake County Continuum of Care to input the raw data from the count and do data analysis. Those in Statistical Methods will reflect on the data gathered and the implications of data analysis on future PIT count survey questions and methods.

“This project helped me realize how policies have an impact on the lives of individuals,” Rolle admits. “Often we think only about laws that directly affect us, and the ones that get attention on social media. Spending time with people who have different experiences and problems than we do makes us more socially aware. It helps us notice the struggles of others, humanizes people who are different, and helps create awareness that will hopefully encourage change.”

Rolle believes the issue of homelessness doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves because there are really no easy solutions. But, she adds, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it or try to understand those experiencing homelessness.

“As an Adventist institution, many of our students are already involved in impactful service opportunities,” Mantz says. “However, by incorporating service into our coursework, I hope our students are better able to see the impact their knowledge can have on their community. We want our students to leave their classes with important professional skills, hearts for service, and the confidence to incorporate the two.”

For information on service opportunities available at PUC, contact Mantz at cmantz@puc.edu; Fabio Maia, service & missions coordinator, at fmaia@puc.edu or (707) 965-7120; or reach out to this year’s student leaders by contacting SA President Kenzie Hardy at knhardy@puc.edu.