What Does the Community Need?

by Eric Wang

In community social psychology, before deciding on how to strengthen the group with which they are working, practitioners must first determine from what the group might benefit through a community needs and resources assessment. With this assessment, community psychologists ascertain what resources (e.g., material, social, skills) are, and what resources are not, available to the people with whom they are working. From there, decisions can be made regarding what steps to take in order to address whatever issues are present by improving the availability of, the use of, and the access to those resources (Watson-Thompson, Collie-Akers, Woods, Anderson-Carpenter, Jones, & Taylor, 2015).

Things to keep in mind

When conducting needs assessments, it is important that community workers adhere to the core values of community social psychology. Specifically, the assessment must be participatory between the community and the psychologists. This means that the practitioners must consult with the group with which they are working in order to determine what it is that the group needs and desires. This operation should be both cooperative and ongoing, allowing the community and practitioners to best analyze together the resources in the community (Watson-Thompson et al., 2015).

The assessment should also be prevention-oriented. The community members and psychologists should not only consider the current state of the community, but they should also look at the conditions (e.g., behaviors, resources) that preceded any of the problems that they might be facing. Possible future issues should also be taken into account so that the community can begin to address them as soon as possible (Watson-Thompson et al., 2015).

Furthermore, community psychologists always should maintain an ecological perspective. Effective needs assessments require professionals to scrutinize the contextual factors that are unique to the community with which they are working. Practitioners should address the historical, individual, cultural, social, systemic, and environmental aspects that have an impact on the community (Watson-Thompson et al., 2015).

Lastly, the assessment should be action-focused. When the assessment is complete, the community and the practitioners should know what problems need attention. The assessment should help guide the steps that are taken to solve those problems (Watson-Thompson et al., 2015).

Let us now take a cursory look at the executive summary of the 2013 Greater Lowell Community Health Needs Assessment to see a real world application of these principles.

The 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment of Greater Lowell

Conducted by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the health needs assessment identified a number of resources related to health in Lowell and its surrounding townships. While they found that the region contained quality health care providers, it was also revealed that certain types of services were limited (e.g., therapists, dentists). These findings satisfy the basic definition of a community needs and resources assessment. The data were obtained using community informants, interviews of community members, and focus groups from the community, making the assessment participatory. The assessment also demonstrated a focus on prevention by determining which groups (e.g., the elderly) within the community were at an elevated risk for disease. The researchers applied an ecological perspective as well by finding social and environmental factors that impacted health (e.g., access to transportation and health insurance). Finally, the investigation emphasized action by discerning specific problems (e.g., language barriers to health care) and making recommendations to address them (e.g., increase interpreter services) (Turcotte & Vidrine, 2013).

Further Reading

The above has offered only a brief overview of part of the necessary framework for learning the needs and resources of a community. Found below are resources that can contribute to a more thorough understanding of the process.

For a more in-depth guide on community needs assessments, visit this website: http://ctb.ku.edu/en/assessing-community-needs-and-resources

To read the executive summary or the full report of the 2013 Greater Lowell Community Health Needs Assessment, check these links:

http://www.lowellgeneral.org/files/dmfile/GreaterLowellCommunityHealthNeedsAssessmentExecutiveSummary2013.pdf [Executive summary]

http://lowellgeneral.org/files/dmfile/GreaterLowellCommunityHealthNeedsAssessmentReport2013.pdf [Full report]

#UML #CommPsych #CommunityHealth #GreaterLowell


Eric Wang is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.



Turcotte, D., Vidrine, E. (2013). Greater Lowell community health needs assessment: Executive summary. University of Massachusetts Lowell. Retrieved from             http://www.lowellgeneral.org/files/dmfile/GreaterLowellCommunityHealthNeedsAssess mentExecutiveSummary2013.pdf

Watson-Thompson, J., Collie-Akers, V., Woods, N. K., Anderson-Carpenter, K. D., Jones, M. D., & Taylor, E. L. (2015). Participatory approaches for conducting community needs   and resources assessments. In V. C. Scott & S. M. Wolfe (Eds.), Community psychology: Foundations for practice (pp. 157-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Paying to Keep the Homeless, Homeless

by Maria Gebhardt


Homelessness in America is an epidemic that affects over 500,000 people on any given night with 7 million additional individuals living with friends or family due to lack of housing (The State of Homelessness in America, 2016). Average costs of homelessness to society can vary, depending on location and available services, but they are steadily reported to be tens of thousands of dollars per year, per person. HUD officials have stated that homeless individuals cost taxpayers as much as $40,000 each, per year; this figure includes transitional or emergency housing, jail visits, emergency room visits, and mental health care (S. Donovan, personal communication, March 5, 2012). Just knowing over half a million Americans don’t have a place to sleep at night is troubling enough, but the fact that we, as tax payers, spend so much money keeping them homeless is disgraceful.
What if I told you it is cheaper to give all the homeless families and individuals homes? One would think that anyone with a shred of humanity or fiscal knowledge would jump on the opportunity to better the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, help make them contributing members of society AND save millions of dollars per year; the problem is, not everyone is. Some efforts have been made but much greater change needs to occur.

The formula for drastically reducing chronic homelessness is simple, give them homes first then help them sustain them. An approach originating in New York- Housing First- does just that and it works. Housing First is an approach to fight homelessness using a fairly simple method: quickly and effectively connect individuals with permanent housing without barriers such as mental health, addiction, etc., with a lease contract and additional services offered on a voluntary basis. Essentially, the approach focuses on housing individuals first then addressing the factors that potentially caused the individual or family to become homeless and helping them form a path to maintain permanent housing.

Housing First has provided substantial reductions in the homeless population in several areas of the country and, most drastically, in Utah. Using the Housing First approach, Utah reduced their chronically homeless population by an outstanding 91%; spending only $10,000-$12,000 a year per individual (Mcevers, 2015). These numbers make one wonder why more cities are not jumping on board the Housing First movement.

Some speculation of Utah’s success has been noted concerning government official’s rush to declare homelessness solved and the inaccuracies that occur while trying to record homeless individuals. Even through these speculations, it is obvious that they have put forth a sincere effort and that effort is paying off both humanely and financially. The numbers of chronically homeless individuals are being reduced and the taxpayers are spending less money; those two facts cannot be debated.

Simply put, Housing First works. Utah is saving over $10,000 a year, per person while housing those who did not have permanent housing before. Denver, CO, using the Housing First approach, is saving over $2.4 million annually and has reported that over 80% of the individuals in the program have maintained permanent housing for 6 months or more (Denver Housing First, 2006). Charlotte, NC reported a $1.8 million savings its first year using the Housing First approach for just 85 individuals (Miles, 2014).

These numbers are astonishing not only because of the monetary savings but the number of lives changed through Housing First. This all leads to the overbearing question: Why are we paying so much money to keep the homeless, homeless?

I urge you to visit endhomelessness.org to learn about Housing First efforts in your area and ways you can help. #uml #commpsych


Maria Gebhardt is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.



Denver Housing First Collaborative Cost Benefit Analysis & Program Outcomes Report. (2006, December). Retrieved from http://www.coloradocoalition.org/!userfiles/housing/ executive_summary_dhfc_study.pdf

La Ganga, Maria L. Utah says it won ‘war on homelessness’, but shelters tell a different story. (2016, April 27). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/27/utah-homeless-shelters-housing-first

Mcevers, Kelly. Utah Reduced Chronic Homelessness By 91 Percent; Here’s How. (2015, December 10). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2015/12/10/459100751/utah-reduced-chronic-homelessness-by-91-percent-heres-how

Miles, Kathleen. Housing The Homeless Not Only Saves Lives — It’s Actually Cheaper Than Doing Nothing. (2014, March 25) Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/housing-first-homeless-charlotte_n_5022628.html

The State of Homelessness in America. (2016, April 6). Retrieved from http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/SOH2016

Sense of Community

by Martha Stewart

We are and have been a member of a different community. Every community has members with a high sense of community and some where the sense is low. What is a sense of community? It is when you feel that you are connected to a community that is interdependent. What is interdependent mean? You are dependent on each other and others in your community. Have you ever walked in your neighborhood and found groups of people talking to each other, who you know are neighbors? Of course, you have. We all have. You may have called a neighbor and asked if you can catch a ride to the supermarket because your car is in the shop. That’s interdependent. A neighbor may have stopped you on the side of the road just to ask how you are and if you want to go get coffee. There are some individuals who have never introduced themselves to their neighbors and never have that sense of community. The sad part about this is you never know who you can become friends with and who might be someone you can share things with. If you have taken a walk, in your neighborhood, on a weekend, a saw a neighborhood yard sale taken place, you may have thought to yourself, ‘why didn’t they ask me?’. These neighbors may not even know you exist because you never took the time to introduce yourself. Back in the 60s and 70s, mostly everyone knew who their neighbors were because they were always out and about, never staying in, hiding from the world. Their children played with each other, they got together at someone’s house for coffee to chit chat, and they pretty much knew each other’s business. They were fully connected to their community. Today, there are not that many people who do this anymore. People are afraid to get to know their neighbors because they are not sure of what they might think about who they are, what they do for a living, how they raise their children, whether or not they’re on state assistance and don’t want to be mocked, and any other issues that may arise that may keep them from getting to know them.

A sense of community consists of four elements: ‘membership, influence, reinforcement integration of fulfillment needs, and shared emotional connection’ (Byrne, 2014).
Membership is when you feel you belong to a community, you feel you have the right to belong there, you are part of the community, you have a personal connection, you have a sense of emotional safety, you feel accepted, and you identify with your community. If you have made many friends in the community you feel you have a personal investment, and you feel that you can identify with the people who belong there and feel encroached by people who you know don’t belong there. If we are part of a community, we have all had these feelings. We may or may not identify with all of them but we will have a sense of community. Just like a gym membership, you pay your dues to be there and you know who does and doesn’t belong.
Influence: This includes your making a difference and having an influence on other members of the community and they make a difference to you. Do you conform with what others do and say? As a member of your community you have a right to offer your opinion about what happens in and around your community and you also have a closeness to these people.
Reinforcement integration of fulfillment needs refers to you having something that the community offers and the community has something you want. You may also feel as though you have been rewarded when you participated in something the community has done. You also feel that you were respected for what you have offered and you should respect what others, in your
community, have offered. Do you feel you have some type of similarities to others? There may be more people in your community who feel the same.
Shared emotional connection bring people together. You share a common bond. You spend time together and the quality of this time is greatly appreciated. You also have an emotional connection that is going to build as long as you are in this community. Giving something of value to others, by way of knowledge and experience, just might get you the same. Everyone has different stories and experiences to share that you may come away with, something you can use in your own life.
Don’t just sit back. Get out and socialize with your community. Join a group. Even if it’s reading group at the library or a neighborhood yard sale, someone told you was coming up. You need to open yourself up to get something in return. Enjoy your community.


#UML #commpsych

Martha Stewart is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Byrne, Shannon, (6/2/2014), 4 Elements to Creating a “Sense of Community” by David McMillan, Retrieved from: http://thecommunitymanager.com/2014/02/06/4-elements-to-creating-a-sense-of-community-by-dr-david-mcmillan/

Far Away from Free

by Patricia Luki


In March 2016, the Human Rights Watch released an article and a video of how a mental health institution in Indonesia treats their mentally ill patients. The article talked about how most of the individuals in that institution was chained to their beds and were fed inhumanely (Human Rights Watch, 2016).

I was born and raised in Indonesia, and I have heard stories and have seen people who are mentally ill or disabled being locked up in their own home or in an institution. However, I have never imagined that it would grabbed an international media’s attention, and I am pretty sure that not many people in Indonesia are aware of this as well. Moreover, this resulted in having some of my American friends shared this article to me. It was very difficult to explain to my American friends that there is lack of support for the mentally ill, or even for individuals with physical or developmental disabilities in Indonesia. For example, Indonesia has a population of 250 million people; however, there are only 600 to 800 psychiatrists and 48 mental hospitals (Human Rights Watch, 2016). Not only that, people who are admitted in these mental health institutions were forced to take medications or subjected to “alternative” medicines, such as herbs, traditional massages and Quran reading in the person’s ear (Human Rights Watch, 2016). It sounds bizarre, but yes, this is something that is happening right now on the other side of the world. Although this practice of locking up patients in confined spaces, also known as pasung, was banned by the government in 1977, families, traditional healers and staffs in the institutions still continue to use this method on individuals with mental illness or disabilities (Human Rights Watch, 2016). When you look at Indonesia from this perspective, anyone would probably say “Oh wow, this country needs help.” And yes, we definitely do need a lot of help.

Community psychology is a field that has a strong interest in social justice, community education and building public awareness (Langhout, 2015). When I was reading Langhout article, I realized that Indonesia is still lacking in social justice, community educating and public awareness on most things, especially regarding mental health and disability rights. Also, Indonesia’s mental illness problems originated from the lack of community awareness, community education and government involvement and control (Human Rights Watch, 2016). Just like many other developing countries, there is still a huge stigma towards the mentally ill, and with the addition of the lack of appropriate services, the fate of these people are in the hands of “professionals” who mostly do not know what they are doing or what they need to do. For example, I have encountered many of my relatives who refrained themselves from taking their children with developmental disabilities outside because they still think that the “sickness” can be contagious. There is still lack of awareness what mental illness is and how to treat people with mental illness or disabilities in Indonesia. Many Indonesians still adhere to traditional herbs or alternative methods in healing any kind of diseases, even cancer!

It is scary if I think about how Indonesia is behind in having proper mental health care and laws. The Human Rights Watch said that the government should amend to the 2014 Mental Health Act to ensure that people with mental illness and other disabilities have the same rights as other Indonesians (2016). I also think that it is very crucial for Indonesia to increase the number of community-based programs and more trained professionals and staffs to educate the community and provide better services for people with mental illness and disabilities. Also, the field of community psychology is not as advanced or maybe even unknown to some universities in Indonesia. My goal is to become a BCBA and bring back the knowledge back home so that children with developmental disabilities will be able to get the proper services and improve their quality of life. However, if Indonesia does not change its laws or take actions in improving how they treat the mentally ill, I’m afraid that there is only little I can do back home. Indonesia still has a long way from advanced mental health care and proper laws for the mentally ill and disabled, and Indonesia is definitely still far away from free if there are still people chained up in their wooden beds in mental health institutions.

The video based on the Human Rights Watch article can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBa-wwcakHM.  #UML #commpsych

Patricia Luki is a graduate student in the Autism Studies department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Barry, A. (Photographer). (2016). A mentally ill man is shackled at the Bina Lestari Mandiri healing center in Brebes [digital image]. Retrieved from http://jakarta.coconuts.co/2016/03/21/living-hell-human-rights-watch-report-details-horrific-conditions-mentally-ill-kept

Human Rights Watch (2016, March 20). Indonesia: End Shackling of People With Disabilities. Retrieved September 06, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBa-wwcakHM

Human Rights Watch (2016, March 20). Indonesia: Treating Mental Health With Shackles. Retrieved September 06, 2016, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/20/indonesia-treating-mental-health-shackles

Langhout, R. D. (2015). Considering Community Psychology Competencies: A Love Letter to Budding Scholar-Activists Who Wonder if They Have What It Takes. American Journal of Community Psychology, 55(3-4), 266-278. doi:10.1007/s10464-015-9711-5