EDUS 660 #10: From the First Aid kit to the Tool Box

Now that you’ve explored Community Based Participatory Research (Action Research) and read about an actual example of how this approach was used to bring about change in a community, think about a community problem.  This could be a problem in your home town or one in the City of Richmond or wherever.  Describe the problem and discuss how an Action Research approach might be used to address this problem. Would you be interested in participating in an Action Research initiative like this?  Why or why not?  Tag action.

When I lived in Philadelphia it was common to see individuals who lived on the street.  Shopping carts packed to the brim accompanied an individual from location to location.  These individuals line the walks leading to the subway.  The pace of most commuters, like me, was rather fast paced.  Everyone in a city has someone that they needed to be 10 minutes ago and rarely does one see individuals meandering along the streets interacting with those individuals sleeping on benches or along the base of a building.Panhandler

I’ve lived in Charlottesville since 1996 and saw individuals panhandling on the Downtown Mall, however, I had not seen them on the corner of an intersection until two years ago.  Area residents encounter individuals standing on several key intersections of the city on a daily basis now.The Urban Dictionary defines panhandling as a synonym for begging, sponging and spanging. Aggressive panhandling could engage an individual in soliciting donations in an inappropriate or intimidating manner. While I have never witnessed aggression, that is not to say that it doesn’t happen.

Early in 2015, a judge in Charlottesville ruled that panhandling is protected by the 1st Amendment, which guarantees an individual’s right to free speech.  It seems to me, that there are greater social issues and concerns at stake here that may be masked as Free Speech protection.

Our community probably isn’t any different than others when stating that there are individuals who are genuinely homeless. I am sure that there were students in my school who were homeless.  Guidance Counselors and administration are careful to protect the privacy of students and family members, which is why I can not bring a name to mind.  What I can recall, is a concerted effort on the part of members of the Charlottesville community to provide temporary shelter for such individuals.

Homelessness is a community problem as opposed to an individual problem. Those without the means to shelter themselves or their family members may struggle on many levels. My friend’s son is disabled and unable to work at this time.  He doesn’t panhandle for his support because he has a strong family that embraces him. What happens to those individuals without a safety net?

The issue of homelessness is one that affects many members of this community.  PACEM is the latin word for Peace.  Congregations in the Charlottesville area created “People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry” as a way to provide shelter for homeless individuals during the winter months.  According to their website, there are 80 faith congregations (inclusive of all out there) and 3,000 volunteers who come together each year.  Intervention is a crucial first step when providing assistance to those in need.  Unfortunately, it is often a social band-aid that covers a problem rather than as stepping stone to lead towards prevention. The issue of homelessness, that “may” lead to panhandling would make a suitable topic for a Community Based Participatory-Research program.

The Community Tool Box, organized by Kansas University, suggests that research should “enlist those who are most affected by a community issue-typically in collaboration or partnership with others who have research skills-to conduct research on and analyze that issue….” The checklist provided in the second section of the toolbox is an effective tool for someone who is considering how this social problem could be addressed by the community.

A few of the key components of the check-list that struck me as important to consider beyond the normal scope of planning

Why?  Action research trains citizen researchers who can turn their skills to other problems as well.-

  • transitioning from homeless to resident brings a different set of problems to solve.  Citizens need tools at their disposal to help solve new problems.

Involvement in CBPR changes people’s perceptions of themselves and of what they can do-

  • we all act on our perceptions-those who become empowered to make their own changes change how they view themselves! Individuals who are or were homeless provide a new lens through which to view the issue.

A participatory action research process can help to break down racial, ethnic, and class barriers-

  • barriers are evident in all communities, even those created by homeless individuals

Who should be involved in community-based participatory research?

  • how often are decisions made for individuals affected by an issue rather than including them in the planning?
  • the CITI training opened my eyes to the importance of including academics in the decision planning, someone needs to know what is and is not allowed, someone needs to carry the banner of “Do No Harm!” The training was very specific regarding several subgroups of the population, however, homeless individuals may need consideration as well.
  • the individuals who agree to engage in CBPR are a team. They need a facilitator who is trained to work with them!

The community toolbox was a nice surprise as this social research course nears completion.  I found many useful ideas, such as the Windshield and Walking Surveys section in chapter 3/section 21, that I might suggest that a team use to consider if homelessness is legitimately an issue worth pursuing-

There's much one can learn about a community by simply looking through a windshield.
There’s much one can learn about a community by simply looking through a windshield.

The easiest and quickest way to get an overview of the entire community-what is the nature of the community?

It might help me to get a better of the areas where homeless individuals may congregate, but how would the team do so without being obtrusive? How can a team do this?

Would a team be welcome to observe the communities where homeless individuals live? Is there any value in doing so?

Kurt Lewin’s theories of participatory action research is an interesting component of Change Strategies for human resource development.  Lewin suggested that there must be a “felt need” strong enough to propel the group to move forward. In order to analyze an issue correctly, it would be important to include those individuals who are directly involved in or who have knowledge of homelessness. Those involved in the issue have a perspective that’s necessary to drive change.

Considering the skills needed to facilitate a group or team are also components of the Adult Learning program at VCU.  I enjoy the processes that an adult educator would use as a member of a Community Based Participatory Research program.Homelessness as an issue is not one that is pressing concern for me at this stage in my life.  In the event that it does become so, I know that I have the skills necessary to serve as a participant on a team.

As far as the issue of homelessness is concerned, I believe that this type of program would be a suitable step to transition from intervention to prevention.  It’s time to move from the band aide to the toolbox as a way to solve problems.

Something to chew on-

How did you select the “issue” that you wrote about in your blog?

What might you learn about the issue if you conducted a Windshield or Walking survey through your community?


Gallos, J. V., & Schein, E. H. (2006). Organization development: a Jossey-Bass reader. Jossey-Bass.