U studying services for homeless populations during COVID-19

This is adapted from a release by the University of North Texas, available here, and is used with permission.

University of Utah political scientist Jesus Valero is embarking on a study of how the continuum of care for people experiencing homelessness, which includes the social, medical, public health and education sectors, has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Valero and Hee Soun Jang, an associate professor and graduate coordinator for the Department of Public Administration at the University of North Texas, have been researching services for people experiencing homelessness that are run at a local level and often involve multiple agencies known as Continuum of Care.

“Understanding how organizations from the medical, social, and public health systems are working together to address the needs of individuals and families experiencing homelessness during COVID-19 is crucial to improving the effectiveness of community programs,” Valero said.

“Continuum of Care is a premise that is unique to improving a fragmented service system for homelessness,” Jang said. “There are innovative and interesting examples of individual agencies providing successful interventions for homeless populations. But, because agencies do not always coordinate services and information with one another, it is difficult to capture comprehensive knowledge of homeless populations.”

In their new research project, funded by a grant from Systems for Action, a national research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Valero and Jang are specifically looking at how Continuum of Care networks were affected by COVID-19. They will use previous national studies from 2018 conducted by IBM and RWJF to compare pre-COVID-19 levels of service with current offerings.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected vulnerable populations and this RWJF-funded project seeks to identify best practices and the conditions that help communities achieve successful collaboration for those experiencing homelessness,” Valero said.

The two-year project will start with case studies in 20 U.S. cities that have both high levels of homelessness and high levels per capita of COVID-19 cases. The second year will consist of a national survey developed from the case studies. Valero and Jang will integrate factors such as racial equity into their research.

“The community has to develop its coordinated approach and aligned mechanism for a fuller, holistic, comprehensive service system that can help these homeless communities,” Jang said. “The people that experience homelessness are in very different stages of their lives. There is no single approach that can fix the problem.”

Findings will be used to understand the effects of the pandemic on Continuum of Care homeless service networks and the effectiveness of the networks in achieving health equity during COVID-19.

“We hope,” Valero said, “that the results of this study will help improve the coordination of cross sector actors in addressing the multidimensional needs of homeless individuals particularly during this public health pandemic.”

Systems for Action is a national research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that aims to discover and apply new evidence about ways of aligning delivery and financing systems across the medical, public health, and social services sectors that support a Culture of Health.

Media Contacts

Paul Gabrielsenresearch/science communications specialist, University of Utah Communications
Mobile: 801-505-8253