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SAMHSA News - July/August 2008, Volume 16, Number 4

photo of a service provider sitting in a chair and surfing the Internet – for SAMHSA News cover story on the Homelessness Resource Center, Web 2.0, and CMHS programs - Homelessness Services: Web 2.0 Connects Providers Online
photo of a service provider sitting in a chair and surfing the Internet – for SAMHSA News cover story on the Homelessness Resource Center, Web 2.0, and CMHS programs - Homelessness Services: Web 2.0 Connects Providers Online

By Rebecca A. Clay

Web 2.0. It’s the latest computer buzzword. But how can it be of use to service providers who work with people who are homeless?

Young and well educated, but overworked and underpaid, these providers operate in programs with few resources for expensive computer hardware.

But when they go home at night, they log on to their personal computers and visit Facebook and MySpace to relax and connect. Tech-savvy and computer literate, they are ripe for SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center (HRC), a virtual community located at

Using innovative Web 2.0 technology (see What Is Web 2.0?), SAMHSA’s HRC gives service providers support—ways to share ideas, get advice, or just chat.

Homelessness Resource Center logo“The site also offers information designed to help service providers avoid burnout and continue being as effective as possible in both their professional and personal lives,” said Deborah Stone, Ph.D., SAMHSA’s Project Officer for HRC and a social science analyst in the Homeless and Co-Occurring Disorders Branch at SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS). “A provider in San Francisco may not know about a program in Boston, although both cities face similar challenges. Now, they can share ideas and solutions.”

According to CMHS Director A. Kathryn Power, M.Ed., the new Web site exemplifies the Agency’s commitment to tackling the problem of homelessness.

“Homelessness is an ongoing challenge to our creativity and to our funding limitations,” Ms. Power said. “SAMHSA continues to make the issue of homelessness—especially among individuals with mental illness and co-occurring substance abuse disorders—a top priority.”

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More Than Documents

The HRC is guided by an Advisory Steering Committee, which comprises expert providers, researchers, and consumers, that helps shape the Web site’s continued development.

“People were invited to be members of the HRC Advisory Steering Committee because of the leadership roles they play. They bring different perspectives to the field of serving and housing people who are or have been homeless,” said Committee Co-Chair Fred C. Osher, M.D., a staff psychiatrist at Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore. “These folks help connect SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center to emerging trends and the needs of practitioners.”

Most resource centers are simply clearinghouses where users can download documents. But after logging in at the HRC, registered users can create profiles, comment on articles, and interact with each other, just as they would on Facebook or MySpace.

Social networking features are easy to use, emphasized HRC Web site designer Matthew Amsden. “If you’ve ever created a profile on Facebook, added a comment on Amazon, or rated a movie on Netflix,” he said, “the site’s features will be familiar. We haven’t really created anything unique, just applied it in a unique way.”

Within the overall “community,” there are areas for specific groups, such as grantees who are part of SAMHSA’s Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) or those involved in the Services in Supportive Housing Initiative (see Homelessness Initiatives).

The goal is for these online communities to become offline communities as well. “We hope that individuals will meet in person,” said Dr. Stone. “Small groups across the country, without any input from the HRC or SAMHSA, are encouraged to get together to talk about homelessness-related issues.”

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One-Stop Shopping

The goal is to offer one-stop shopping to anyone interested in homelessness-related resources—to organizations within the private sector as well as in the Government’s public sector.

The new site fulfills a clearinghouse’s traditional mission of providing a wealth of information, including research materials. An area called “Library” features about 4,000 recent articles, research papers, and other resources on homelessness. For users’ convenience, these materials are grouped into categories. Each link includes an abstract that lets users know what’s there.

“That information will be especially helpful given the new challenges the field is facing,” said Fran Randolph, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., Director of the Division of Services and Systems Improvement at CMHS. “We still focus on people with serious mental illness, but we have more and more people who are going to be entering the homeless world who don’t fit the typical profile,” she explained.

As examples, Dr. Randolph cited veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and also families who have recently lost their homes to foreclosure.

Although the HRC Web site features just as much information as a traditional clearinghouse, it looks very different. The site is very graphics-intensive, designed to appeal to the technologically sophisticated young people who are the site’s primary audience.

In addition, pages are organized around specific topics: outreach, consumer involvement, motivational interviewing, youth, trauma, health, and housing.

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photo of three members of SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center Advisory Steering Committee  photo of three members of SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center Advisory Steering Committee
The Homelessness Resource Center’s Advisory Steering Committee had a chance for a before-launch “peek” at the HRC’s new Web site in May. Members present included (left to right) Marti Knisley, Director, Community Support Initiative, Technical Assistance Collaborative; Deborah Stone, Project Officer, SAMHSA’s HRC, funded by the Agency’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS); and Carol Wilkins, Director, Intergovernmental Policy Corporation for Supportive Housing. Photo by Meredith Hogan Pond   Mary Ellen Hombs, Deputy Director, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness; Elizabeth Lopez, Branch Chief, Homeless Programs and Co-Occurring Branch at SAMHSA’s CMHS; and Fran Randolph, Division Director at CMHS. Photo by Meredith Hogan Pond

See Also—Article: Part 2 »

What Is Web 2.0? »

Homelessness Initiatives »

Next Article »

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Inside This Issue
Homelessness Services: Web 2.0 Connects Providers Online
Part 1
Part 2
What Is Web 2.0?
Homelessness Initiatives

Returning Veterans National Guard Focuses on Mental Health, Substance Abuse

Vets Suicide Hotline Helps 55,000+ in First Year

HHS Secretary Taps Administrator for New Post

Administrator’s Message: To a Healthy Future

Recovery Month: Communities Gear Up for September

Update: Directory of Treatment Programs

Treatment Discharges: Latest Report

Sustaining Grassroots Community Programs

Teens and Substance Use
Parent Awareness of Youth Substance Abuse Varies
Underage Drinking: What Parents Need To Know
Tobacco Sales to Minors at All-Time Low

Smoke-Free Conference Policy


SAMHSA News - July/August 2008, Volume 16, Number 4


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