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Homelessness in Monterey County

A Guide to Writing a Needs/Problem Statement

This exercise will assist you in developing a needs/problem statement. It divides the needs/problem statement into five sections.

Section One: The Incidence of the Problem

(The problem) is defined as __________________ and is found in (provide populations affected). On the local level, (the problem) affects (# of people) each year, while the incidence of (the problem) on the state and national level is _____ and _____ respectively. Over the past ____ years, (the problem) has (improved, worsened, stayed the same) and the reason for this is____________.

Discussion: In this section, you clearly identify the needs/problem including its incidence and the characteristics of those most affected. Such identifying information might include:

♣ the number of people affected by the problem
♣ age, gender
♣ ethnicity and language(s) spoken
♣ income level
♣ educational level
♣ health status
♣ family structure and family size
♣ geographic location/distribution

When writing this section of the proposal it is preferable to present a few pertinent facts about the problem as opposed to overwhelming the reader with data. Note that the statistical data presented above are given in the context of the local community. Consider placing data in relationship to other data to strengthen your request. Consider the following statements:

Fifty percent of young people in Grant County do not graduate from high school.

versus

Grant County has one of the highest dropout rates in the country with 50% of its young people not graduating from high school compared to a dropout rate of 10% at the state level and 27% nationally.

Section Two: The Causes of the Problem

The causes of (the problem) are ___________________________. The major causes of this problem on the local level appear to be _____________________________. The local level problem is different from or is unique from the state or national data because____________.

(Below is a sample “causes” section -the data is “made up” and is for illustrative purposes only.)

No one seeks to be homeless. It is a recalcitrant problem with a variety of causes ranging from serious mental or physical health problems that impact an individual’s earning potential, a lack of educational attainment and employability, a changing economy with job losses and work transitions, high housing costs, high cost of living, insufficient individual savings, and high health insurance costs, to name a few. In Grant County there have been significant economic changes leading to the increased incidence of homelessness over the past five years including the closure of the automobile manufacturing plant, the loss of a big box retailer, and a reduced total population leading to an economic slow down, fewer jobs available, and a higher unemployment rate than the state average. This type of economic pressure causes approximately 30% of the homelessness in Grant County. These persons, with an average stint at homelessness of less than 6-months, will be able to regroup, reemploy, and become self-sufficient again.

However, in Grant County, over 70% of homeless persons (1,400 persons) suffer from severe and persistent mental illness pointing to a far more pervasive social problem—that being, to care for the unable. Living under bridges, in the bushes, on dump sites, and in back yards, there are persons who are terribly frightened to show themselves by daylight, to step into an office to request services, or to otherwise seek help. Realistically, even if they did, there is little help to go around with 67 shelter beds available per night and 2,000 persons in the elements. And the reality is that even if they did get into a shelter, they are not good candidates for success with paranoid ideation and suspiciousness, verbal outbursts, poor social skills, and sometimes bizarre behaviors. They are often sent packing back to the bush.

This subset of 70% of the homeless population has been studied by Smith (2006) who found that 65% have been living outdoors for six years or more have multiple health issues including dental needs, rashes, vision problems, lice, parasites and other infections. Half of this population has never been employed, and 75% have previous mental health treatment. Smith administered an intelligence test to find that 87% are severely cognitively impaired due to head trauma (60/40 accident /physical abuse), drug abuse, or congenital birth defects.

Discussion: There are usually multiple causes for most social problems. The trick to writing this section is to bring the reader to an understanding of the causes so that the reader sees your “solution” as an obvious and best fit. Are you expecting that the proposed program will address the cognitively impaired homeless? If so, this section is a success.

One of the major problems grant writers have in writing this section is that they use the need for service as a cause of a problem. In this case, the cause of the problem is not that there are not enough shelter beds. Lack of shelter beds didn’t cause homelessness. It is a symptom of the problem. Avoid using this kind of “circular reasoning” when writing the needs statement.

In general, causes of a problem may stem from many factors such as a lack of skills, lack of knowledge, debilitating attitudes, dysfunctional beliefs, and poor/deprived conditions (Lauffer, 1983)

Section Three: The Costs of the Problem

In addition to the significant impact that the problem has on the individual, the problem costs __________ in remediation, services, and prevention efforts. Others affected by this problem are (tell who and in what way). The consequences of not addressing the problem are ___________ and/or the benefits of addressing the problem are ___________________.

Discussion: The point of this section is to get at the actual costs the problem brings: financial costs of addressing or not addressing the problem, costs to others in terms of how the problem affects them, or the cost effectiveness of intervening in the problem. If you can say that for “every $2 spent in prevention, another $6 is saved” you have made a compelling case to fund your project. Costs can also be measured in lost productivity, lost educational opportunity and employability, the transmission of an undesirable outcome from one generation to the next, etc.

Section Four: Promising Strategies

Several promising strategies have been developed to address (the problem). (Write about each strategy for each specific population you are targeting.) At the local level, the following agencies provide these services: ______________________________________________.

Research into (the problem) by (Researcher Name and Date) has revealed that the most promising strategies address ______________________________________.

Based on research in the field, the consideration of barriers, and agency experience, the most promising approach for this community may be____________________.

Discussion: Assess and discuss the current level of community response to the problem- is it adequate, where are gaps in services, is it comprehensive, is it collaborative in nature. (A word to the wise- do not bad-mouth another agency’s efforts. Instead, tactfully state service’s shortcomings.) Can collaborative efforts be developed further? In short, what are the ‘best practices” to address this problem and is it being done already? You want this section to set up your program description section of the proposal. In other words, you want to select a program design that meets the criteria of a promising strategy—one that has the greatest potential to work.

Among the factors that can strengthen the rationale are the following:

♣ is clearly focused on the target group
♣ meets a client/community need
♣ is cost effective
♣ is a novel approach
♣ builds upon the work of others
♣ uses existing resources
♣ promotes interagency cooperation
♣ fits with the funder’s mandate and mission
♣ has the potential of being replicated

Section Five: Barriers to Service

The major barriers for clients to utilize services are __________________. Barriers in the community that impact change in the problem area or keep clients from service are _________.

Discussion: Barriers to service have traditionally been measured in terms of the service:

♣ availability (is it there, are there waiting lists?)
♣ accessibility (cost, hours of operation, transportation, language capability, eligibility criteria)
♣ awareness (do people know services exist)
♣ acceptability (meets people’s expectations, is warm and welcoming, adjusts to cultural needs)
♣ appropriateness (is the proper service for the problem)

Consider each of these factors when discussing barriers to service. You may also find agency service data useful in developing this section of the proposal. Did certain ethnic populations participate while others avoided the service? Is the percentage of persons from different ethnic backgrounds in service the same as in the community as a whole? Were there waiting lists that kept persons from attending? Is the agency on a bus line? Are the hours of service convenient for the target population?

Are there barriers to service based on religious beliefs? Can you access the settings needed to offer the program? Are there barriers to how you can deliver your message in an acceptable manner? (For example, an agency designed a media campaign to run public service announcements to prevent teen pregnancy in movie theatres and the theater wouldn’t accept it because it used the word “pregnancy.”)

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