Creating Change in the Homeless Community During a Pandemic

April 8, 2021

Pursuing work in the community during a global pandemic most certainly can pose unique challenges; however, this did not stop trainees in Cincinnati, Ohio from promoting positive change in their local homeless community. Trainees Sue Ram (occupational therapy), Emily Witt (social work), Julius Freeman (psychology), and Nora Lascell (speech-language pathology) are a part of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) training program in collaboration with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) and the University of Cincinnati Center for Excellence (UCEDD). Over the course of the last year, the trainees overcame many barriers to see their project to completion with support of their faculty advisors (Pam Williams-Arya MD, Lesley Raisor-Becker PhD & Nichole Nidey PhD). The goal of the project was to create an evidence-based, trauma-informed toolkit for a local homelessness organization, Bethany House. In order to prepare the toolkit, the project consisted of completing many trainings and collaborations through the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition to learn about how to best support the needs of Bethany House.

The trainees have a passion for improving local systems in order to combat homelessness. To put things into perspective,1.35 million children have experienced homelessness this year (Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition). When working in the community with the homeless population and key stakeholders, in-person trainings and site visits can be crucial, however, the pandemic posed many challenges. With social distancing and a shift to virtual webinars and meetings, the trainees and organizations demonstrated flexibility and passion for the project that allowed for all meetings to continue virtually and for information to be shared effectively. Although it would have been great to meet stakeholders in person, the team wanted to prioritize the safety of all involved. The team researched and reviewed topics ranging from commonly recognized causes of homelessness to statistics for homelessness in Cincinnati.

The trainees completed a systematic review of the previous LEND/UCEDD research team findings, sought out in-depth learnings on the current state of homelessness in Cincinnati, collaborated with experts on best practices for trauma-informed care/team communication, and assessed examples of other evidence-based toolkits. Each team member worked together to determine topics that would best meet the needs of Bethany House. Topics included in the toolkit; but not limited to: self-care strategies for shelter staff, child behavior and developmental milestones, communication strategies between staff and clients, and strategies for improved communication amongst shelter staff. The toolkit is set to be delivered to Bethany House in the coming weeks and a poster presentation on the project is slated to be presented at the 10th Annual Ohio LEND Poster Symposium this Spring 2021. Sue Ram, OTD, OTR/L Occupational Therapist LEND/UCEDD