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March 2009

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Policymakers tap service-learning research potential to address chronic social ill

Homelessness in America and northeastern Wisconsin is on the rise. Add in tough economic times and the stress on local churches and shelters in the area is only going to increase.

St. Norbert College is doing its part to help find some answers. Six students in a service-learning course taught by Wendy Scattergood (Political Science) are hitting the streets looking for answers.

The Brown County Task Force on Homelessness, led by Green Bay mayor Jim Schmitt ’80 and county executive Tom Hinz, asked the students if they would be interested in conducting a policy analysis looking at six individuals in Brown County whom they have identified as chronically homeless according to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards.

The students plan research, and possibly some personal interviews, to try and determine why these individuals are homeless, the types of services they receive and the types of services they may possibly need in the future.

They will collect, analyze and present data on the local homeless population and their interactions with local social services. In addition, they will be researching the academic literature on homelessness and incorporating it into the local study.

“I’m treating this course as a job for them,” says Scattergood. “They are employees and I’m the manager. I expect them to treat this project as if they were policy analysts who work for a non-profit organization. They go out and do consulting for local government groups looking at different social problems and that’s the way I’m treating this. They should act like good employees. They should do good work for their organization.”

As beginning scholars in the social science field, the students will come to unbiased conclusions about the best ways to address those issues they identify through policy analysis.

Matt Andrews ’09 is looking forward to the challenge. “We get to actually deal with a real problem in our own community, something we can see if we drive down Broadway. If you see a homeless man or woman on the streets, it hits a little bit harder than reading a book in the library. We have to deal with this face to face and come away with a real conclusion, a solution to the problem, if you will,” says Andrews.

The students are considering spending an overnight at a shelter in Green Bay and also doing a ride-along with the Green Bay Police Department.

“It allows us to better evaluate the services people are currently using,” says Bethany Skorik ’09. “As part of our cost analysis, we are trying to come up with a list of all their expenses, what their major expenses are to the taxpayers. So any foot in the door we can get is really going to help us out with this project.”

These findings will then be compared to the cost of instituting a program called “Housing First,” which is being tested in a few areas around the country.

“I am just interested in learning more about this,” says Laura Hein ’09. “I know before taking this class I was completely unaware of homelessness in Green Bay and the Brown County area. I believe people, no matter what their nature or situation, deserve to have advocates and I think throughout raising awareness, I can hopefully become an advocate for them and help them in the end.”

The students are all taking Homelessness in Green Bay, a service-learning course offered under the auspices of the St. Norbert College Community Service and Learning Program led by Dan Robinson.

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