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Working with community to tackle homelessness

Published on February 1, 2017

The Ave Foundation's encampment on University Way ("The Ave") near the University of Washington campus. Protesters at the encampment are advocating for homeless rights.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Sage Ross, CC 4.0

Seattle’s rapid rise in homelessness, coinciding with increasing costs in housing and living, have brought significant challenges to economically vulnerable populations in the Puget Sound. In spite of a sense of urgency regionally and in many areas of the country, sufficient resources, effective systemic fixes and broad support still have not come together to end homelessness.

As a research and teaching institution, the University of Washington seeks to develop strategies to address the problems facing citizens experiencing homelessness. These efforts include developing rigorous research questions and projects, analyzing the barriers to housing, and working with practitioners and civic leaders to find sustainable solutions.

University of Washington faculty and students are now looking to how we might expand our capabilities and our connections with communities to collaboratively work to mitigate the effects of homelessness, improve access to and retention of housing, and contribute to ending homelessness.

As policymakers, communities, and practitioners consider changes in priorities and services to address the recently accelerated rise in homelessness, new research questions and needs arise requiring ethical monitoring and the implementation of productive and effective measures. This presents both an opportunity and challenge for the University of Washington.

One effort to build on the UW’s work includes Urban@UW working in collaboration with the West Coast Poverty Center and other key partners to catalogue existing homelessness-related projects and research across the University’s departments and centers, in order to gain insights into strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. A faculty retreat in fall 2016 brought together researchers and practitioners from across UW’s three campuses to share information and develop new projects.

Connecting researchers from various and occasionally disparate fields is essential to fostering new collaborations capable of advancing thinking at a rate commensurate with the challenge at hand. By building a network of current initiatives we aim to facilitate the development of new opportunities for those interested in participating; and foster research that improves data analytics, evaluates policies and strategies, and addresses the barriers to housing for the diverse populations experiencing homelessness.

As part of increasing research and data analytic approaches to homelessness, Urban@UW organized a workshop at the 8th International Conference on Social Informatics conference in downtown Bellevue, WA in November 2016. Local and national researchers presented their work on technological and data-driven solutions to improve services, understand population processes, and develop effective community interaction with persons experiencing homelessness.

Additionally, on January 17 and 18, the MetroLab Network, a national city-university network hosted by the City of Seattle and the University of Washington, met in Seattle City Hall for a Big Data and Human Services Workshop. Keynote speakers and breakout discussions explored ways to direct research and technology to improve services while addressing income inequality, health, mobility, and homelessness. The School of Social Work will be Urban@UW’s partner in addition to others as we move forward in this arena.

Many UW faculty staff and students work, and many have worked for decades, in different ways to end or ameliorate the effects of homelessness. Urban@UW takes the challenge of how to propel this work forward and, though smarter collaboration, increase effectiveness. As UW and Urban@UW build a collective homelessness initiative, we look forward to more opportunities for community stakeholders to participate. Keep an eye out for updates from Urban@UW and the University of Washington regarding these issues. If would like more targeted communication about homelessness, please consider joining our mailing list, or our listserv for urban-related information and events. Any questions may be sent to

Written by the staff of Urban@UW.
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