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Learning More About Homelessness Research
June 19, 2012
Today’s post was written by Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern for the Alliance.
Last Wednesday I had the privilege of sitting in on a meeting for the Research Council, a group comprised of prominent researchers in the areas of homelessness and housing from around the country. The Council meets to gather and share their new information and recent research activities, propose new research to fill existing gaps, and guide the agenda of the Homelessness Research Institute, the research division of the Alliance. At the end of most meetings some kind of research agenda is prepared from the meeting’s conversation. This time the Council was visited by several researchers from HUD who were able to listen and respond to the suggestions that the researchers made. Besides being among greats within the homelessness and housing sphere, it was really cool to be able to see how the Alliance sets its research agenda and interacts with agencies like HUD.
The meeting covered a vast swath of topics, from youth homelessness, to child welfare and housing instability, to homelessness among veterans and single men. The conversation was a whirlwind of acronyms, abbreviations, and statistics, most of which went way over my head, but all of which are extremely important to know and definitely expanded my understanding of all things related to homelessness. Many of the ideas that the Council discussed have been questions that researchers have been trying to answer for years but have not been able to definitively address for one reason or another, so it was interesting to hear it all in one place!
Though the conversation was rife with interesting facts and research, perhaps the most interesting was about the “Cohort Effect” among the aging homeless population. Within the shelter system, the population is heavily skewed toward single adults, particularly older men, with the median age hovering around 50. The Cohort Effect suggests that during the 1980s, when widespread homelessness appeared in the US in its current form, several factors—such as an economic recession and the emergence of crack cocaine—led to persistent and chronic homelessness among the single adults. Isolation from the job market during the recession followed by the drug epidemic in the mid-80s conspired to keep this cohort out of the housing market and legal economy. This is especially interesting because of the implications this effect has for providing health care to an aging homeless population.
The two most dominant ideas, both of which ended up being placed on the research agenda and suggested to the visiting HUD researchers involved using the pre-existing social system to analyze the efficacy of several programs. The first suggested using the structure of the emergency shelter system to see if the levels of alcohol consumption or intoxication allowed in a shelter (e.g. whether that shelter is dry, damp, or wet) affects how utilized that shelter is.
The second idea suggested using the Family Unification Program (FUP) to look at how the program’s voucher could be better utilized for children who receive FUP support. In addition to those two ideas, suggestions about researching the success rates of rapid re-housing, particularly about recidivism rates of individuals leaving rapid re-housing programs, made up the bulk of the research agenda suggestions.
At the end of the day my head was spinning and I left the meeting with the same feeling that exchange students have after their first day speaking their new language: I could understand everything that was being said to me, but responding was another issue altogether. Even though the meeting was like diving headfirst into a pool without really knowing how to swim, I learned more about the American social service system in one day than I have in any research setting prior and I felt like I had accomplished something. I’m really excited to keep having this feeling throughout my internship (especially the part about feeling accomplished; there’s nothing like a good ego boost every once in a while!).