New UC San Diego research center to study homelessness in the region

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego are launching a multi-year study of homelessness that will look at long-term outcomes that could help refine solutions to the problem.

“It’s not research for research’s sake,” said Mirle Bussell, associate professor at the University of San Diego and co-director of the new Homelessness Center for research and data studies at the university. “Our questions are not driven by the research team, but by conversations with different community partners who say, ‘We have an agenda. How it works ? How can this work better? »

Bussell, director of undergraduate studies, urban studies, and planning at UC San Diego, serves as co-director with Leslie Lewis, associate professor and director of urban health and equity initiatives in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

The two have been engaged in the topic for the past three years through a course on homelessness they teach and research they have done on the effectiveness of the safe parking program run by Jewish Family Service.

The new, broader effort will bring together stakeholders ranging from homeless service providers to people who have experienced homelessness themselves. Bussell and Lewis described the hub as collaborative, but also very factual and data-driven.

Bussell said the new effort will expand their study beyond the secure parking program to other city programs, but will also examine the effectiveness of programs in other cities and states.

Lewis said their work so far has connected them to other projects in the community, leading them to learn more about challenges and barriers to finding solutions.

They also found that there was a lack of data on the problem. Although some organizations had data, they found that it was not easily accessible or shared with other organizations.

The Regional Homelessness Task Force, which does San Diego County’s annual homeless count, also collects data, but Bussell and Lewis said they won’t duplicate their efforts.

“We envision ourselves as a partner in the regional task force,” Lewis said, adding that the hub will have greater research capacity than the task force.

The same is true for service providers who run programs to shelter, house and rehabilitate people, but who may not have the ability to track their clients over multiple years to measure long-term success.

“Asking ‘What happens to your customers after they leave?’ is quite a heavyweight for vendors,” Bussell said.

The hub will also have a strong educational component, with students in their classes helping to research and interview homeless people to learn more about their experiences.

“They’re still quite shocked at what an excoriating experience it is,” Lewis said of what students learn from collecting oral histories of people for their class.

In the future, classes could be held at UC San Diego’s new Park & ​​Market building in downtown San Diego, where students could step out to interview homeless people and service providers. .

Funding for the hub came from two couples, Phyllis and Dan Epstein, and Hanna and Mark Gleiberman. Each couple donated $1 million to the university.

With funding for a five-year study, Lewis said papers and reports will be published as the research continues, along with best practice recommendations.

Norma A. Roth