Resourceful students aid homeless at André House
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
André House needed help.
The nonprofit agency that operates a Hospitality Center at 201 S. 11th Ave. in Phoenix is so busy meeting the direct needs of the homeless population, such as meals, clothing and other essentials, that Executive Director Dan Ponisciak didn’t have time to address a glaring need.
The organization estimates that 70% of people who experience homelessness don’t have a cellphone or access to the internet.
“If you don’t have a cellphone to make calls for resources to know where to go, that can be difficult for someone who is on the street for the first time,” said Ponisciak, a Holy Cross Father. “I just don’t have the time, frankly, to reach out to different agencies. So any resources that are put together can go a long way for people to end their homelessness.”
In the fall of 2019, Grand Canyon University College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Dr. Sherman Elliott and Director of Social Work Dr. Kathleen Downey met with André House officials and learned of their need.
They asked for volunteers from GCU’s Social Work Club in a project that was not for a grade in a class but a way to help those in need.
GCU students Emma Czajkowski, Chloe Ehrke and Daylan Kiss stepped up. A year of research produced material for resource lists that will be handed out to the homeless population at André House.
The project’s first step was a surprise. The students came up with a list of general areas that the homeless population might need, such as housing, food and jobs, and compared it to the list that André House workers compiled.
Love, hope and community topped the André House list.
Research goes a long way, Kiss said, but real life tells you what they need.
Czajkowski added, “It was a surprise for us, which seems silly because we are all in psychology or social work programs and understand the hierarchy of needs include food and water and necessities. But a key one is love and belonging.
“It’s one of the reasons we were grateful that we could get together with Andre´ House staff. They work one on one with these people and really get to know them. We were excited that there was so much for us to learn about social work, about people, but also about how we could help.”
Downey said that learning to collaborate with human services agencies has been a prime benefit of the students’ project. They know what the needs are, and one of them is a sense of belonging.
“André House does that,” she said. “First of all, they call them guests; they are not clients or patients. To me that epitomizes community, epitomizes the longing for hope and connection with each other.”
One of the ways the students found to address the need for connection will be an effort to place window stickers on businesses who welcome the homeless.
“It creates a community in Phoenix of trust,” Czajkowski said. “Now I know where I can go out and shower regularly or have access to people who care about me.”
The students also learned that different groups have varied needs. Youth, veterans or senior citizens may require a different list of resources. That involved a lot of research, contacting numerous agencies in the Phoenix area and confirming their services.
The first brochure produced was specific to the COVID-19 pandemic and supplied lists of symptoms, health care facilities and testing sites, and bus routes to get there. Other brochures completed also include one specific to military veterans. There will be eight when the project is complete.
“We discovered as a team that to be successful and really provide the best possible work for André House, we needed to involve other people who had various skill sets, backgrounds and experiences,” said Ehrke, a Sociology major.
They enlisted the help of student graphic designers at GCU for help with the brochures. And they are learning about applying for grants, which they hope will help them print the brochures and eventually a full guidebook that André House can hand out to guests.
“One of the biggest things was recognizing that research is one piece of doing a project, but collaboration is the biggest piece – when you are working with an agency to meet them where they are at,” Downey said. “Having that perspective of working with people directly is the richest piece of information we could gain from them.”
Czajkowski hopes the resource lists will provide motivation and hope for the population in poverty “to get out of it so it’s not a permanent place for them.”
The takeaways were significant.
“I always felt like there was nothing I could do to help them,” Kiss said. “Doing this project showed that there really is something I can do. Yes, it’s small, but I know that we’re helping make a difference in these people’s lives.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.