Cal Streeter

Social work graduate students Angela Baucom and Shubhada Saxena were two of four students to help with the Rundberg photo-voice project at Dobie Middle School this past summer.

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Students in the School of Social Work assisted a group of Northeast Austin middle school students with a photography project depicting life in the Rundberg community through the eyes of the youth. 

The photography project was completed by students enrolled in a summer program, designed for at risk youth at Dobie Middle School as part of Restore Rundberg, an Austin Police Department initiative that aims to reduce crime in the neighborhood. The project developed out of a UT class taught this summer by social work professor Cal Streeter. According to Streeter, much of the course content focused on the real-world question of how to engage a community like Rundberg, such as giving students an opportunity for hands-on experience. 

“They get to see first-hand how empowering that is for, in this case, the group of students,” Streeter said. “One of the projects we decided to do was to learn more about the community through the eyes of young people in the community, and photo-voice is one methodology that you can use to do that.”

Angela Baucom, social work graduate student, was one of four UT students who walked the middle school students through the process of taking photographs that captured life in their community and how to explain what made their pictures meaningful. She said she had a slightly different perspective than some of her fellow social work students because she used to work as a teacher in the public schools. 

“I came at it from that point of view, of reaching out to kids and trying to get them involved in their community, which is something that I’ve done in the past,” Baucom said. 

Baucom said the project was not something originally outlined in the APD initiative, which receives federal funding from the Obama administration's Neighborhood  Revitalization Initiative.

“This is kind of a next step beyond just the actions that have been taken to try and kind of approach some of the crime in the area,” Baucom said. “This is more about incorporating the youth perspective to enhance the relationship not only between the APD and the community, but also just the project in general and the community. 

David Contreras, executive director and founder of LaunchPad the Center, a nonprofit organization which hosted the afterschool program for the students, said the experience was personally impactful for the younger students because they felt like they were able to share their perspective on their own community. 

“I guess the bottom line is they felt empowered to really convey a part of the city that, unless you’re from this part of the city, it’s hard to identify with the different types of challenges that exist on East Rundberg Lane,” Contreras said. “They felt like, ‘Somebody wants to hear how we think.’”

Baucom said the project will continue this semester — seven new middle school students will be participating in the program this semester. 

“Personally, I always love seeing young people engaged in creative pursuits,” Baucom said. “That’s not an opportunity a lot of youth get, especially youth in areas like the Rundberg neighborhood that are suffering economically and from heightened crime.

Tuesday marked day two of volunteers fanning out across the community to survey and identify the city’s most medically vulnerable homeless as part of Austin Registry Week.

Austin’s 100 Homes Campaign, led by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, is sponsoring Registry Week, Nov. 7-9, in order to create a database identifying the most vulnerable homeless people in Austin, said Cal Streeter, who sits on ECHO’s board of directors.

The information collected will be used for the 100 Homes Campaign’s commitment to providing permanent housing for 100 homeless people by July 2013, Streeter said.

He said the campaign is part of a larger national effort, the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which recruits communities across the United States to join efforts in creating permanent homes for 100,000 people over the next four years.

“I think about homelessness as a community problem that sits at the vortex of where a number of community problems converge [such as] affordable housing, unemployment, access to affordable health care, family violence, mental health problems and substance abuse and addictions,” Streeter said.

Streeter, a social work professor, said he encourages students to be aware of volunteer opportunities and to help out whenever they can. He said the students in his Strategic Partnerships Through Collaborative Leadership graduate class took on the campaign as a class project and participated in the surveys taking place this week.

Volunteers for Registry Week were required to undergo training in order to learn how to respectfully approach the homeless and their homes.

Although unconventional, the campsites where they live are still their homes, and volunteers were taught to treat them as such, said social work graduate student Kayleen Hooley.

“What struck me was one of the gentlemen I was interviewing has been chronically homeless for two to three years, but before that had an apartment, a job, and another was even a college graduate,” said graduate social work student Meghann Flynn.

She said interviewing the homeless is a more valuable task than a head count because people are able to understand the unique situations of why they’re homeless and what can be done to prevent an increase in the number of homeless people in the future.

“I think that everyone deserves some help when they’re down, and to be living on the streets and not have a home to call your own isn’t right,” said Flynn. “I treat these people as though they could be my father or brother. We’re all just here to be happy, to love and live a good life.”

The homeless population is not one most are eager to work with, Flynn said. She said sharing her experiences with her peers is what’s valuable because they can learn a lot about how to work on the streets and talk with the homeless in order to see what life is like from a different perspective.

“When you lose touch with the people that you’re serving, you lose touch with what works best for them,” Flynn said.

Streeter said he hopes a successful 100 Homes Campaign in Austin will help create viable long-term solutions to issues that raise concern in the community.

“What kind of society do we want to live in?” Streeter asked. “Do we want to live in a society where it’s OK for people to live and die on the streets?”

Published on Wednesday, Novermber 9, 2011 as: Organization to house 100 homeless in need of care