Researching Best Practices in Homeless Services

My passion for serving those within our community who are experiencing homelessness began my freshman year of high school when I would serve meals to visitors of Church of the Reconciler. In this capacity, I was able to spend time with visitors, getting to know them and their experiences. Nonetheless, I failed to grasp the complexities of their needs. In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to work under Dr. Stefan Kertesz at the Veterans Health Administration, assisting him in his research to tailor healthcare services to the specific needs of people experiencing homelessness. During my tenure at the VA, I began to better understand the health needs of people experiencing homelessness and how decent, affordable housing can serve as the cornerstone to supporting proper health. In the summer of 2011, I completed a fellowship with Collaborative Solutions, Inc. There, I performed a wide variety of tasks from writing policy briefs to drafting needs assessment surveys, affording me the technical skills required to evaluate homelessness from a macro-level perspective. Overall, these experiences led me to pursue a masters in public health, a field that will provide me with the tools needed to evaluate the health needs of vulnerable populations, analyze effective interventions, and systematically change policies that will strengthen our communities.

A little over a year ago, I contacted Michelle (One Roof Executive Director) about the possibility of a summer internship. I had taken a year off after graduating college and wanted to get my feet wet in the homeless advocacy field before beginning my graduate degree. In an introductory meeting with Michelle, Nathan (PromisAL Program Coordinator), and Valerie (Administrative Coordinator), we decided that I could best serve One Roof by exploring, documenting, and reporting upon best practices in homeless service provision. At first, this seemed like a fairly simple task, considering my ignorance regarding the enormous complexities in preventing and ending homelessness. Nonetheless, as I delved deeper into the research, I began to understand the connecting points between services – services that range from health care and housing, to employment benefits and supplemental income benefits. Additionally, I learned about the tools designed to secure such benefits for clients, including vulnerability assessments and peer support specialists. Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me! As time passed, however, I found it easier to narrow my research into three main components: best practices for continuum of care success, best practices for housing program success, and best practices for increasing economic security.

Breaking down these topics even further, I had the opportunity to explore different tools and programs that have proven successful in stabilizing clients, helping to reach those most vulnerable within our communities. I presented this research to One Roof member agencies and later to members of the Board. My research has led to the writing of a document which fully discusses each practice and provides examples of models utilized throughout the country and even internationally. It is my hope that agencies throughout central Alabama can adopt as many of these strategies as possible, modifying them to meet the specific needs of clients within our community.

John-Andrew Young is a life-long resident of Birmingham. He completed his undergraduate studies in political science at Birmingham-Southern College in 2012. In the fall of 2013, he began his masters in public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, concentrating in health policy analysis. His current focus as a masters student centers around policies that benefit the healthcare needs of individuals experiencing homelessness.  

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