Yesterday, the Alliance hosted a convening of the Research Council – a handful of leaders in the homelessness research field – to discuss the direction of homelessness research. After a few moments sharing new and innovative projects that each member was working on, the group went forth to discuss three major points:
- What has been achieved from the last agenda?
- What is the future of homelessness research?
- What are the policy implications of our research?
In the last Research Agenda, the council attempted to answer some of the bigger questions facing the field:
- What programs and policies are effective in preventing chronic homelessness?
- What mix of housing assistance and services prevents and ends homelessness?
- What characteristics distinguish those poor, at-risk families who become homeless from those who don’t?
As the voices of these research heavyweights whirled around the room, I furiously took notes on the questions that seemed to resonate loudest. It became clearer and clearer that as much as we have learned about homelessness, there is even more that we don’t know. Now that the foundation has been laid on the issue of homelessness, the charge – it seems – is to dig deeper and deeper until homelessness is no longer the social problem we know today.
But in this economic climate and at this particular point in time, there are a few questions that rose as the obvious questions we need to answer soonest:
1. What is the impact of the recession on homelessness? How do the housing markets and unemployment factor in?
2. Will President Obama’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program manage to make a difference? Who will this program help? How much of a difference will be made?
3. What do we know about homeless youth?
4. What do families need? Are there more homeless families now, and how can we help them?
They’re certainly questions that have been coming across my desk – from colleagues and reporter and the like; undoubtedly, I am not the only one struggling to find answers to these questions.
The Council conducts important research to help bring us closer to an answer and to demystify this population that – as we are learning now – are not so different than us.