Faculty and Students Examine San Diego Homeless Problem
San Diego frequently ranks among the top five American cities for having the largest number of homeless residents. This problem has city government taking notice, and San Diego State School of Public Affairs professors and students looking for solutions.
Megan Welsh, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs, and Mounah Abdel-Samad, Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy, use their classrooms and students to research the problem of homelessness in San Diego. This endeavor is done through The Sage Project, which is a partnership between San Diego State University and a San Diego city or government entity. The program aims to engage students with local government projects that address their smart growth, quality of life, and sustainability goals.
“The city wanted us to examine the work the San Diego Homeless Outreach Team was doing and look deeper into the issues facing homeless residents,” said Welsh. “We believe as a university we can play a role in helping the community do a better a job with our homeless problem and hopefully provide policy recommendations.”
The Student Experience
Armed with the city’s support and their passion for social justice, Welsh and Abdel-Samad made homelessness the key focus in two of their undergraduate courses. In spring 2016, students in the Criminal Justice and Public Administration classes travelled to the downtown San Diego East Village community – which has the highest percentage of homeless residents – to actually speak with a total of 108 individuals.
For students, this type of experiential learning helps them understand the curriculum in a way that goes beyond the classroom and textbooks, bringing awareness to students who are interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement and government.
“Our students have a much more complex understanding of the issues and they take that with them in their future career,” said Welsh.
Using Research to Implement Change
The most stunning discovery the students and faculty found in their research was learning how unsafe the individuals felt living on the street.
“We had people tell us stories about victimization, and the police not willing or able to help them,” said Abdel-Samad. The team proposed a solution to the city that included the establishment of safe spaces for homeless individuals where they can set up tents, and have more bathrooms and showers.
The Public Affairs faculty and students also recommended a review of the city’s Homeless Outreach Team efforts. The City is implementing many of the recommendations. The project has not gone unnoticed on the SDSU campus, as faculty members from other departments such as Economics, Political Science and Public Health are eager to contribute.News List