Homelessness Research

Who we are

The Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative (HRAC) brings together researchers from across Portland State University along with people experiencing homelessness, advocates, service providers, city and county policymakers and other stakeholders to address issues related to homelessness.


Our five research areas:

Reducing Homelessness at PSU

Research conducted at Temple University suggests that 10- 14% of college students are currently experiencing homelessness (Goldrick-Rab, Richardson, Schneider, Hernandez, & Cady, 2018). We will identify ways PSU can support members of our community who are experiencing, have experienced, or are on the cusp of experiencing homelessness, finding opportunities in our programs and policies and collaborations with other Portland metropolitan area and Oregon anchor institutions. Our work will culminate in a strategic plan for supporting PSU students, staff, and other vulnerable community members experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

Changing Narratives, Creating Action

While people agree that homelessness is one of the most pressing issues in our country, people do not agree on its causes or possible solutions. Some who are not experiencing homelessness hold negative stereotypes about those who are, while others are unsure of what they can do to help (Belcher & DeForge, 2012). Through discourse analysis and close reading, we aim to understand how multiple groups, including those who are directly or indirectly in positions to help end homelessness, think and talk about homelessness. Targeting places of opportunity for changing hearts and minds identified by our research, we plan to create a public education campaign in consultation with people experiencing homelessness to reframe how other community members think about and act to end homelessness.

Innovative Approaches to Supporting People Experiencing Homelessness

From building temporary villages to creating hygiene centers, Portland faculty are already leading the way on thinking about how to support people who are currently experiencing homelessness. We will expand these efforts by examining how, where, and whether they should be scaled up, how they change public perceptions about who is experiencing homelessness, and how associated changes in attitudes influence public support for activities addressing homelessness. Center-affiliated pioneering participatory design initiatives will provide new visions for alternative shelter models and expanding work on hygiene centers. Work will build on city, state, and nonprofit partnerships, as well as on interdisciplinary research and analysis of efforts like those that resulted in Kenton Women's Village and Clackamas Veterans Village (Harbarger, 2017). Integral to our work will be public exhibits and other interventions that promote local and national dialogue about issues around homelessness. These will utilize rigorous design work and highlight university research, building on the work that was achieved with the Center for Public Interest Design’s (CPID) exhibits at City Hall, PNCA, Pickathon, and Portland Art Museum in 2016 and 2017 (Stein, 2017).

Housing as Healthcare

Emerging evidence demonstrates that housing with supportive services not only provides better care but also has cost-savings potential in reductions to emergency room visits and other high-cost health services (Wright, Vartanian, Li, Royal, & Matson, 2016). In collaboration with partners at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, we will document the health impacts of houselessness, as well as the associated health care and emergency service utilization costs. Specifically, we will examine a variety of physical and mental health outcomes (e.g., blood pressure, cortisol, t-cell responsiveness, nutritional status, psychiatric symptom distress, and stage of mental health and/or addictions recovery) and associated service costs (e.g., primary care visits, emergency room visits, psychiatric hospital admission, use of emergency services) and compare these for individuals experiencing homelessness, individuals who are newly housed, and individuals who are stably housed.  This research will allow us to understand better the “costs” of homelessness for persons experiencing it and for their communities.  This work will also contribute to our understanding of homelessness as a risk factor for diminished mental and physical health (e.g., Castellow, Kloos, & Townley, 2015), and the role of housing as a catalyst for improvements in health, well-being, and community integration (Mcnaughton, Townley, Nelson et al., 2016; Padgett, 2007). Kaiser Permanente’s recent impact investing commitment of up to $200 million in the Portland metropolitan area to address housing stability and homelessness reflects the significance and timeliness of this project.

Policy and Program Evaluation 

Using the AHFE evaluation framework, and in consultation with AHFE and other local jurisdictions, we will identify the most pressing evaluation issues. Other jurisdictions around the country might need to understand differences in the effectiveness of approaches to prevention and services in rural and urban areas. In line with the Housing as Healthcare project described above, we would also be interested in exploring the potential of using social impact bonds, based on the costs savings documented in the report, “A Study of Emergency Service Provider Costs for Chronically Homeless Persons in Washington County, Oregon (Stewart & Kessi, 2013), to fund housing and services for homelessness prevention. For example, the AHFE Evaluation Framework (Jarvis & Malsch, 2017) notes that understanding environmental factors, such as economic fluctuations and the housing market, is key to anticipating potential increases in the need for homelessness prevention and homeless services. Here, we would study the role that state and local policy plays in the housing market, particularly around issues such as naturally-occurring affordable housing, evictions, and how to effectively estimate those people “doubled up” in unstable housing situations. The community needs studies of cost-effectiveness and alternative approaches to prevention and services to inform resource allocation. Stakeholders have expressed an interest in understanding how the size and scope of homelessness might change over time as shifting demographics, aging, and a changing housing and job market may contribute to the pipeline of people experiencing homelessness. We propose to build and maintain an econometric model that predicts the impact of these factors.

Our research will explore:

  1. How can public opinion and actions be cultivated to address the multiplicity of issues that result in homelessness?
  2. What is the most effective suite of governmental, organizational, or individual interventions to address homelessness?
  3. What are the most innovative policies and programs to ending homelessness while supporting those who are experiencing homelessness?
  4. Which aspects of our work are unique to Portland, and which apply to other West Coast cities and states?
  5. How does structural racism factor into homelessness and to the ability of governments, social service providers, and individuals to end homelessness?