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UC San Diego new research hub to study homelessness in region

Researchers at the University of California San Diego are launching a years-long study into homelessness that will examine long-term outcomes that could help fine-tune solutions to the problem.

“It’s not research for research sake,” said Mirle Bussell, a UC San Diego associate teaching professor and co-director of the new Homelessness Hub for research and data studies at the university. “Our questions aren’t driven by the research team, but conversations with different community partners who say, ‘We’ve got a program. How is it working? How can it work better?’”

Bussell, director of Undergraduate Studies, Urban Studies and Planning at UC San Diego, is co-director with Leslie Lewis, a continuing lecturer and director of Urban Health and Equity Initiatives in the Urban Studies and Planning Department.

The two have been engaged in the topic for the past three years through a course in 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 unite stake holders ranging from homeless service providers to people who have experienced homelessness themselves. Bussell and Lewis described the hub as collaborative, but also very evidence-based and data-driven.

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

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

They also found that there was a dearth of data about the problem. While some organizations did have data, they found it wasn’t easily accessible or shared with other organizations.

The Regional Task Force on Homelessness, which conducts the annual point-in-time count of homeless people in San Diego County, also collects data, but Bussell and Lewis said they will not be duplicating their efforts.

“We envision ourselves as a partner to the Regional Task Force,” Lewis said, adding that the hub will have a greater capacity to do research than the task force.

Likewise for service providers who run programs to shelter, house and rehabilitate people, but may not have the capacity to follow their clients over several years to measure long-term success.

“Asking ‘What happens to your clients after they leave?’ is a pretty heavy lift for providers,” Bussell said.

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

“They’re always pretty shocked by just how an excoriating experience it is,” Lewis said about what students learn when collecting oral histories from people for their class.

Classes in the future may be held at UC San Diego’s new Park & Market building in downtown San Diego, where students may walk out the door 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 released as research continues, along with recommendations for best practices.



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