Academics Stepping Up To The Challenge Of Homelessness

Tent pitched in common area on the grounds of Harvard University
The US academic community has been slow to take up the issue of homelessness, even when it's under their noses, according to the article linked below.

Research in the United States has been connecting safe, stable affordable housing with health care. This post is the second in a short series about how the research is spreading throughout institutions across the country.

Faculty and students at Harvard University have been aware of homelessness for a long time. Harvard medical graduates founded the Boston Center for the Homeless in 1985 to provide health care to people who were homeless. The Boston Center for the Homeless is internationally recognized for its groundbreaking work.

In the 40 years since the Boston Health Center for the Homeless opened, researchers have been chipping away at understanding the factors contributing to homelessness. Margaret Kushel, who is based at the University of California, San Francisco is one of those researchers. Kushel recently led a comprehensive study interviewing 3,200 people who were homeless. The study reinforces evidence from other research that housing is a critical element in ending homelessness, but it doesn’t stop there. Kushel says:

“Every route toward an answer flows through housing, and flows through building a society that is less unequal and less cruel.”

Homelessness has struggled to find a place in the academic community, in part because the issue crosses so many fields of study. In 2019 the Harvard Initiative on Health and Homelessness launched as a pilot project. It is based in the School of Public Health, and draws on the wisdom and energy of other faculties. The Harvard Initiative on Health and Homelessness provides a platform for the University to treat homelessness as a fields of study for the whole university.

The article linked below discusses the challenges in getting such a comprehensive project off the ground and reports on some of the early initiatives. There is also an interesting discussion of student work projects, which give Harvard students from a range of disciplines an opportunity to work in front line service environments and with service managers.

The following article, which is published in Harvard Magazine, pitches to Harvard alumnae. For non-alumnae, it confirms what people who have been working in housing and homelessness have thinking for a long time:

    • Homelessness hasn’t had the attention it deserves.
    • Homelessness affects everyone in society.
    • Assigning responsibility for homelessness to one government department or one academic faculty isn’t going to succeed. The issue needs to be shared across departments, academic disciplines and communities.

You can read more about the Harvard Initiative on Health and Homelessness in Harvard Magazine: The Homelessness Public Health Crisis