University Business Students Grapple with Homelessness
A fresh, young public image; stronger and more consistent partnerships with businesses; and a focus on services for children were among the recommendations explored by an undergraduate business class at the University of Oregon this spring. Professor John Chalmers challenged 40 students in his “Business Strategy and Planning” class to develop strategies to enhance ShelterCare’s capacity to serve families. After introductory sessions to orient the students to ShelterCare, the causes of homelessness, and the community resources currently available to support homeless families, the class identified an overarching objective for their work. Under the goal to “provide effective and sustainable services,” the class divided into eight teams. Some directed their attention to program structure and effectiveness, while others focused on financial sustainability. Highlights of the project included a survey distributed to 1,000 businesses. The 110 responses revealed that about 61 percent of respondents were familiar with ShelterCare and 27 percent were interested in partnering with the organization to provide job opportunities for ShelterCare’s consumers.
Another team developed a regression model in an attempt to determine the optimal duration of stay for a family in an emergency shelter. The ideal timeframe would ensure an improvement in income and a move to permanent housing upon departure. Although imperfect, the model suggested a stay of 77 days rather than the 60 day stays families are currently housed in short-term Family Housing units. Three of the groups explored the restoration and expansion of services for children. Ideas ranged from implementing a limited weekend and summer-only program, to an elaborate plan to house an afterschool program for several hundred students in one of the vacant and unused Eugene 4J elementary schools. “Although none of the proposals offers a definitive plan of action for ShelterCare, they each provided a nugget of information, a suggestion worthy of further study, or a new resource or tool that will be useful in our outreach and fundraising,” says Lucy Vinis, ShelterCare’s development director.
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