As a practicing social worker in Anchorage for over twenty-five years, Kathi Trawver regards community partnerships as “a bit of a no-brainer.” For starters, field work in the surrounding community serves an integral and practical function of her discipline. However, she also acknowledges that addressing some of Anchorage’s most pressing issues helps her attend to a more critical, pressing lifelong question: “So what?”
Dr. Trawver thinks that we each possess a “So what?” question, even if we never actively phrase it as such. Think of it as an inner-prompt that helps us identify why we think we’re here in the world – a reflective inquiry that helps us better understand why we do what we do. That “So What” leads you to pursue the work you find important and necessary. “For example,” she shares, “for me, staying connected to the community and engaged in it as a practitioner has always answered that ‘so what’ question for me.”
From early into her practice, she felt most at home helping practitioners lead clients to the necessary information, services, and resources that best afforded them a means to achieve their goals. She admits that working at this level has always felt like a natural impulse for her.
“No one should ever have to knock on twenty wrong doors to meet a critical need,” she argues, “In our work, we’re supposed to take away all wrong doors and to fill in the gaps where we find system fragmentation. So, a big part of my focus has been trying to address the fragmented system where people often have trouble connecting or talking with each other.”
Shortly into her work in the mental health field, Kathi noticed that many of her clients – adults struggling with serious mental illness – were often released from services and returning to their communities either homeless, precariously housed, or headed to jail. It wasn’t long before she noticed a trend.
“Among those suffering from mental illness, you’re often in one of three places at all times: an institution like API, in prison, or out on the streets.”
This realization, nearly thirteen years ago, led Dr. Trawver to focus her energies on the many issues relating to homelessness and housing insecurity in Anchorage. This, in turn, soon led to her involvement with the CCEL.
“My first UAA community-engaged project was working with Anchorage Project Homeless Connect(APHC),” she recalls, “I planned a variety of events with them – some of which involved social work students as volunteers assisting in the evaluation of the project.”
One of these was APHC’s “One Stop Shop.”
“We started up the One Stop Shop with APHC as a one day event where as many of our providers as possible could set up shop at one location and people experiencing homelessness could come and get whatever they most needed at that time.”
|Anchorage Project Homeless Connect's One-Stop Shop|
Based on a model out of San Francisco, where it’s offered to the homeless community monthly, the APHC One Stop Shop brought a variety of services from around Anchorage to one location for a day, two times a year, offering the community’s homeless a means to get everything from a birth certificate, doctor’s appointment, and driver’s license, to a meal, a haircut, a dental referral and more.
More recently, through the CCEL, she partnered with Dr. Donna Aguiniga, two CESAs, and almost 50 UAA students to conduct a two-year project with community homeless social service providers to conduct an assertive unsheltered and homeless youth point-in-time count.
Over the past year, she’s also helped the State of Alaska Council on the Homeless conduct a statewide survey of municipal governments to determine needs related to homelessness and co-developed and presented statewide training for intake data collection for the January 2017 Project Homeless Connect events held across the state.
In addition to the above, she serves on the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness Board of Directors, Chair their Data Committee, and sits on the Alaska Homelessness Management and Information System Oversight Committee.
Dr. Trawver understands it’s not always essential that faculty come into university positions with practice experience in the community or as practitioners in the field. However, she also knows her natural inclination has always been to discover what’s most useful for practitioners on the ground. Knowing this has compelled her to bring her discoveries as a practitioner to the university, while continuing to explore what’s going to make a difference for individuals working in programs aiming to serve others.
“Even in my research, I’m not looking down, trying to carve conceptual frameworks or complicated theories about service provision. I just really want to get practitioners what they need and the information necessary to offer better services so that clients.” Almost for clarification, she adds, “Which is not to say there isn’t a need or place for more theoretical and less applied research. My heart’s just always somewhere out beyond the academic silos and in the community.”
In fact, for Trawver, community engagement isn’t an abstract idea or a subject for study “out there” in a remote setting somewhere beyond the university classroom and office buildings where she’s employed. Instead, she acknowledges that by virtue of her residence in Anchorage, “I am the community.” Rather than distance herself from the situations or needs that require the most pressing and immediate attention in Anchorage, she sees no other choice than to address them head on and from the heart.
|Students from the UAA Justice System participating in Anchorage Project Homeless Connect|