Spring 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW3

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Homeless Families: Extension's Role


Daniel J. Weigel
Area Human Development Specialist
Nevada Cooperative Extension
University of Nevada-Reno

Patricia A. Myer
Area Family Resource Management Specialist
Nevada Cooperative Extension
University of Nevada-Reno

Homeless families have become a concern for many cities, and in Nevada, the problem has been growing at a rapid pace. Does Cooperative Extension have a role in addressing the specific needs of these families? Our experience has convinced us that the answer is yes - by networking.

Since homeless families aren't a traditional Extension audience, we knew that traditional approaches wouldn't be appropriate given the circumstances of the homeless family. Besides problems with housing, families are often beset with family violence, personal crises (often loss of job), substance abuse, limited education, mental health problems, and little social support.

To address the homeless issue in our community, we implemented a multifaceted approach:

  • Four separate inservices of a recently established project for homeless families were presented to staff. Topics included decision making, goal setting, basic money management, communication and family relations, and conflict management. Agency personnel, in turn, used the information in working with their homeless clientele.
  • The human development specialist conducted regular workshops on communication and conflict management to homeless family support groups.
  • The family resource management specialist worked with human service agencies to provide one-on-one money management counseling to homeless families and a trained volunteer force to continue the financial counseling.

Based on this experience, we believe that Cooperative Extension can play an important role in helping homeless families. Here are some additional approaches:

  • Organizing, facilitating, or participating in a community task force aimed at developing local solutions to the problem.
  • Creating community awareness of the issue through the media and presentations to professional groups and decision makers.
  • Using Extension's expertise in needs assessment, program planning, and evaluation to help identify problems and develop solutions.
  • Designing educational programs directed toward the concrete needs of the families while using creative delivery methods, such as networking with other agencies, placing posters and fliers in high-use locations, or using video and/or actual presentations at local shelters and feeding centers.
  • Working one-on-one with families to define and prioritize specific problems and either help resolve these issues or refer to appropriate community resources.

By networking with community agencies and using our creative expertise, Extension can play a vital role in helping homeless families.