Skip to main content

Homelessness and Housing


The Urban@UW’s Homelessness Research Initiative aims to be a nexus for researchers and practitioners to exchange discoveries, experiences, and ideas on the topics of homelessness, housing access, and their drivers and consequences. By connecting the efforts of faculty from across disciplines and campuses, the HRI serves to amplify research findings and translate them to a broader community of state and local governments, nonprofit providers, philanthropies, and others dedicated to improving the lives of those experiencing homelessness. The Homelessness Research Initiative unites faculty efforts from across the University of Washington to address homelessness through a research lens.

A study of the recent King County initiative moving people from homeless shelters to hotel rooms to help slow the spread of COVID-19, part of the Homelessness Research Initiative, is co-authored by Rachel Fyall and Gregg Colburn, HRI faculty co-leads.
Read the final report here.

Homelessness on UW’s Campuses

Interested in staying in the loop? We have two listservs:

Homelessness Research: Click Here to Join Our Listserv for Homelessness Research

Housing Research: Click Here to Join Our Listserv for Housing Research



Homelessness and Housing: Initiative Leadership

Faculty Co-Chairs: Gregg Colburn, Assistant Professor, Runstad Department of Real Estate; and  Rachel Fyall, Associate Professor, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance

Current Projects

Doorway Project

Lead: Seema Clifasefi

The Doorway Project aims to create a pilot café/navigational model that will engage the University District’s homeless, street-involved or marginalized youth; UW students and faculty; and University District service providers in innovative and impactful ways.

The place-based studio/community café will catalyze social innovation through deep participation and mutual learning where interdisciplinary community-campus partnership projects can occur on an ongoing basis. Through participatory research methodologies utilized alongside empathy-centered visual reporting and intervention design, the faculty leads plan to strengthen community resilience and capacity while increasing empathy and understanding of the homeless youth population.

The project is part of a broader initiative which will work to address youth homelessness in the University district, and includes collaboration with the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center to build upon the services of current local providers in an iterative and community-engaged manner. Learn more about the Doorway Project.

Sound Communities

Co-leads: Gregg Colburn, Al Levine, Rick Mohler

Sound Communities envisions a Puget Sound region where all of us live in vibrant, thriving communities with access to public transit and amenities, giving us the freedom to make our best lives for ourselves and our families. Our mission is to promote the development of complete, walkable, equitable and inclusive neighborhoods at scale across the Puget Sound region in concert with the region’s historic investment in transit.

Primary goals:

  • Encourage, support, and enable cities and counties to create and update station area plans based on community vision to achieve complete communities based on equitable transit-oriented development
  • Provide cities and counties with the capability to acquire, assemble, lease, or landbank land within and adjacent to station areas to be developed into affordable and mixed-income housing
  • Provide cities and counties with the means to partner with the development community to produce affordable and mixed-income housing and related infrastructure

Click here to explore the recently launched website

Past Projects

An Analysis of Investments in Non-Congregate Emergency Shelter in King County During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Co-leads: Gregg Colburn, Rachel Fyall

King County recently began an initiative to move people experiencing homelessness out of emergency shelters into hotels and motels. In partnership with the County and with funding support from the Gates Foundation and Urban@UW, the aim of this project is to understand the impact of living in a non-congregate environment on shelter-stayers’ physical and mental well-being, ability to participate in the workforce, and outlook on the future. Results will establish an evidence base for key decisions that the County faces as it emerges from the COVID-19 crisis. Because a return to normal (highly crowded homeless shelters) may not be an option in the near-to-medium term due to public health concerns, the County must formulate new ideas to house and support people experiencing homelessness.

Click here to read the October 7 press release

Click here to read the final report, published December 2

Understanding Housing and Food Insecurity among University of Washington Students

Co-leads: Rachel FyallLynne ManzoChristine Stevens

This survey project investigates the prevalence and characteristics of University of Washington-Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell students experiencing housing and food insecurity. Preliminary findings about students’ experiences of homelessness on all three University of Washington campuses have been released. With a 20% response rate, it examines the diverse population that may bear the burden of inequities, and has paved the way for subsequent qualitative analysis of students’ lived experiences.

Click here to read about student food and housing insecurity on UW’s campuses

This research project was spurred by an Urban@UW meeting in 2016, which led to the formation of the Homelessness Research Initiative. This project is thus an example of how the Homelessness Research Initiative aims to bring faculty together across disciplines to contribute to efforts to understand and address homelessness in our area.

Critical Narratives of Homelessness

Team: Charlie Collins, Sarah ElwoodAmy HagopianVictoria LawsonLynne Manzo, Graham Pruss, Kathryn Pursch-CornforthAmoshaun Toft

The faculty and staff team is currently developing curriculum elements that will challenge dominant negative cultural narratives through education, engagement with local organizations, and advancement of student capacities for social change. Through this curriculum, faculty members aim to structure a place-based and community engaged process that could result in a public deliverable created by the students and their collaborators. In changing individual perception of narratives of homelessness, the coursework can provide an opportunity for students to become catalysts of thinking for a broader audience.

Primary learning goals for curriculum:

  • Understand cultural stereotypes and political discourses around class and homelessness
  • Identify avenues for making greater narrative change or organizational resistance
  • Challenge dominant narrative (intervene, generate interrupters)
  • Develop/deepen student competency around cross-boundary/interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Work with diverse communities towards a common goal

Check out the Critical Narratives of Homelessness: 2017-8 Report






Statewide and beyond

  • For statewide referrals to food, housing, and many other resources, call 211 on your phone or visit Washington 2-1-1 at

Partners and Collaborators

Related Coursework


ENV H 443: Housing and Health

HSERV 490/590: Homeless in Seattle: Destitute Poverty in the Emerald City

GEOG 271: Geography of Food and Eating

GEOG 277: Geography of Cities

GEOG 342: Geography of Inequality

GEOG 377: Urban Political Geography

GEOG 445: Geography of Housing

GEOG 470: The Cultural Politics of Food

GEOG 490: Field Research: The Seattle Region

LAW E 525: Poverty Law

MEDEX 580: Homelessness in Seattle

NUTR 303: Food Systems: Individual to Population Health

NUTR 412/512: United States Food Systems Policy

NUTR 513: Food and Society: Exploring Eating Behaviors in a Social, Environmental, and Policy Context

NUTR 514: Sustainable Food Systems for Population Health

ORALM 651: Health and Homelessness

ORALM 652: Health Issues in the Homeless and Underserved

PEDS 530: Homeless Youth and their Medical Care

PUBPOL 561/URBDP 561: Urban Economics and Public Policy

PUBPOL 564: Housing and Social Policy

R E 401/563: Housing Markets and Policy

R E 464/564: Affordable Housing

R E 466/565: Advanced Housing Studies

SOC 420: Sociology of Food

SOC 459: The New Inequality

SOC W 554: People, Place, Equity

URBDP 451: Housing

URBDP 457: Housing in Developing Countries

URBDP 562: Introduction to Neighborhood Planning and Community Development


T GEOG 321: Urban Geography

T URB 220: Introduction to Urban Planning

T URB 480: Housing in the United States


B HLTH 220: Community Nutrition

B HLTH 405: Race, Power, and Food

BIS 448: Social Policy