SCSU Project Shares Life Stories of New Haven’s Homeless Community

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Dr. Dana Schneider, along with SCSU students and a team of individuals from Marrakech, Inc., led by Jill Cretella, is empowering homeless individuals in New Haven by recording and sharing their life stories in a project called “Voices Should Be Heard.” Dr. Schneider is an associate professor of social work at SCSU. “We wanted to provide a platform for individuals who do not normally feel heard and are often marginalized, to have a voice and share their life stories,” said Dr. Schneider.

The project has received an overwhelmingly positive response from homeless individuals. “While initially we were hoping to start with ten videotaped interviews, we had to stop at 27 due to our time and resources,” said Dr. Schneider. Many interviewees expressed a desire to continue helping with the project.

“Voices Should Be Heard” began four years ago when Dr. Schneider met Jill Cretella, who is the CAO at Marrakech, Inc. They both knew about StoryCorps—a project that records stories from the lives of average Americans. “We wondered what would happen if we offered a StoryCorps-like experience to New Haven individuals who are homeless,” said Dr. Schneider. Over time, the New Haven project developed with the support of several organizations: Marrakech Inc., Taking Initiative Center, the SCSU School of Health & Human Services, and CSU-AAUP.

This summer, the project team is transcribing interviews and beginning to analyze them for common themes. “Information from this study will help us advocate for programs, services, and for social justice. We hope to use the stories to provide an often unseen and human perspective to homelessness,” said Dr. Schneider. “We heard poignant and inspiring stories of resilience. Several participants expressed that the experience of coming to Southern and having their stories videotaped was very meaningful.”

Going forward, the team hopes to conduct focus groups with participants and develop a video montage from the interviews. Alumna Catherine Cota worked on the project during her senior year at SCSU and is staying on to help with the project this summer before attending NYU’s Master of Social Work program in the fall. Cota assisted in conducting interviews and is currently working on transcriptions. She also analyzed some of the stories and presented on them at SCSU’s first undergraduate research conference in March 2015. “We look forward to the possibility of more students joining the project in the fall. We are currently looking for a student to help us create a video montage…which we plan to use for community advocacy and education, as well as our classroom teaching,” said Dr. Schneider.

Dr. Schneider and a group of faculty, staff, and students are also advocating for SCSU to become a “University of Compassion” like CCSU and WCSU. Being a University of Compassion means making compassion an essential part of university life, therefore creating an atmosphere of increased caring, outreach, and well-being. Dr. Schneider notes that the compassion initiative and the research project share a common thread​: “Ultimately, our vision [for the project] is that these stories will be used to help build a more just, connected, and compassionate community by presenting stories of humanity behind homelessness and addiction.”

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