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HPRI Symposium: Unsheltered Homelessness

Tue, May 24 @ 9:00 am - 11:00 am

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Perhaps the most discussed issue related to homelessness is unsheltered homelessness. People experiencing street homelessness have an increased risk of adverse health outcomes and, potentially, death. From April 2020 to March 2021 alone, 1,988 unhoused individuals died in Los Angeles County, a 56% increase from the previous 12 months (NYT). Although historically marginalized racial/ethnic groups are more likely to experience this form of homelessness, the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness is on the rise and includes “people of every race, ethnicity, gender, and most age groups. Only children (people under 18) have realized an overall decrease in unsheltered homelessness” in recent years (NAEH). Questions remain on how best to serve people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

Are encampment “sweeps” effective practices or do they exacerbate the experience of homelessness? What are the intersections between the criminalization of unsheltered homelessness and racial inequities? What kind of Interim Housing solutions are most effective; and which groups benefit the most from it? What types of outreach practices can help move someone from the streets to housing? This symposium will further these discussions with informed perspectives to facilitate collaborative approaches toward ending unsheltered homelessness.

Presenters and Panelists:

Ben Henwood headshot
Dr. Benjamin Henwood
Professor of Social Work, USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work
Benjamin Henwood, PhD, LCSW, is a recognized expert in health and housing services research whose work connects clinical interventions with social policy. Dr. Henwood has specific expertise in permanent supportive housing and on improving care for adults experiencing homelessness and serious mental illness, as well as in the integration of primary and behavioral health care. His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (including the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and National Institute on Aging) and he has served as the methodological lead for the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count since 2017, which is the largest unsheltered count in the United States. He is a co-author of a book on Housing First published by Oxford University Press, and is the co-lead the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s Grand Challenge to End Homelessness. Dr. Henwood is currently a Professor at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

Randall Kuhn (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1999)
Dr. Randall Kuhn, Associate Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
Randall Kuhn (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1999) is a demographer and sociologist who employs a wide array of research methods and data to study the social determinants of health, health program evaluation, and the health-development nexus. He has conducted seminal research on the impacts of migration on health. In Bangladesh, he leads a 35-year evaluation of the effects of randomized child and reproductive health interventions on health and socioeconomic change across generations. His cross-national research and forecasts explore the effectiveness of global health policies and the role of improvements in health as a driver of social and political change. Kuhn’s methodological expertise includes longitudinal data analysis, experimental and quasi-experimental research design, forecasting, and novel uses of administrative data.

Sarah Hunter headshot

Dr. Sarah Hunter, Senior Behavioral Scientist at RAND, Director of the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness
Sarah B. Hunter (she/her) is a senior behavioral scientist, professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and Director of the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles (CHHLA). Over a decade ago, Sarah started working in the field of supportive housing for individuals experiencing homelessness as an evaluation consultant for Skid Row Housing Trust in downtown Los Angeles. Since that time, she led a report on LA County’s Housing for Health initiative that was featured in a number of media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, National Public Radio’s “Marketplace,” the Christian Science Monitor, CurbedLA, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Hunter is currently the principal investigator on a number of supportive housing evaluations, including LA County’s Just In Reach Pay for Success initiative, which targets individuals in the criminal justice system, and an initiative operated by the Inland Empire Health Plan. She also led a longitudinal study of veterans experiencing homelessness in West Los Angeles to better understand service utilization and barriers to housing stability. Hunter received her B.A. from New York University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Dr. Jason Ward headshot
Dr. Jason Ward, Associate Economist; Associate Director, RAND Center for Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles
Jason Ward is an economist who conducts research on housing, labor, and education policy. His recent research has included assessing the housing needs and preferences of unsheltered individuals in Los Angeles, estimating the feasibility of adaptive reuse of commercial real estate for housing, and estimating the causal effect of restrictive labor regulations on the production of affordable housing. Other research has assessed changes in lifetime veteran educational attainment over recent decades, exploring how selection bias resulting from a change in interview methodology for a canonical national labor survey during the COVID-19 pandemic affected the survey’s accuracy, and estimating the effect of four-day school weeks on student achievement. His research has appeared in peer reviewed journals including Health Affairs, Economics of Education Review, Demography, and Economic Inquiry. His research and commentary has been featured in media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, KPCC Los Angeles, CNN Business, and CalMatters. Dr. Ward received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2019.

Alexander Lawton, MPH headshot
Alexander Lawton, MPH, Survey Researcher 2, Department of Community Health Sciences, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
Alexander Lawton, MPH is a research analyst that has contributed to survey design and data analysis of multiple longitudinal research projects focusing on people experiencing homelessness. He has worked under the guidance of Dr. Randall Kuhn since receiving his MPH from UCLA’s Department of Community Health Sciences in 2020.

Colleen Murphy headshot
Colleen Murphy, Associate Director, Unsheltered Strategies, LAHSA

Colleen Murphy is the Associate Director of Unsheltered Strategies at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). Since 2017, she has been the co-lead on the County of Los Angeles’ strategy to build and foster a more coordinated services system for the 45,000 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

Prior to LAHSA, she directed Outreach and Engagement at both PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) in Southeast LA and St Joseph Center on the Westside. She’s a trained public health professional and researcher with more than 20 years’ experience fostering community engagement, partnerships and outreach in underserved communities both here in LA and in sub-Saharan Africa. Her focus areas included infectious diseases and maternal and child health. She received her bachelor’s degree in international affairs from James Madison University and her postgraduate diploma in epidemiology from the University of London, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Berlin Contreras headshot

Berlin Contreras, Senior Manager, Street-Based Access and Engagement
Berlin Contreras was born and raised in Inglewood, CA and has always had a passion to provide services to underserved youth, individuals, families, and communities. Berlin’s childhood experience has shaped her to be an advocate to underserved communities.
Berlin has more than 8 years of experience working in the field of social services. She began her therapist career with Special Service for Groups in August 2017 in the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System (HOPICS) division as a Mental Health therapist in the Multidisciplinary Teams (E6) working with individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

In her role as a Homeless Access and Engagement Senior Manager for Street-based Access and Engagement, she is responsible for leading the activities of the E6 MDT Outreach Program, SPA6 Outreach Coordination, and Street Outreach. She ensures that services are being provided to youth, individuals, families, experiencing homeless in Service Planning Area 6 (SPA).

Berlin received her Master’s degree in Social Work with a concentration in children, youth, and families from the University of Southern California. In her role at HOPICS, she hopes to bring services to those who have lost hope in the system, and a new outlook on a “new tomorrow.”


William Jackson III headshot

William Jackson III, Special Teams Housing Navigator, HousingWorks
William Jackson is a native Angeleno who was homeless for 4 years, his journey taking him across Los Angeles, to New York, to France, then back to LA again (going through all levels of homelessness in the process – from sleeping on friends’ floors and couches to living in a vehicle to sleeping on the sidewalks of Hollywood to living or sleeping in shelters). Will is an original member of Ktown For All, a homeless outreach and advocacy group that started as a counter-protest to all the residents of Koreatown coming out against Bridge Housing in Koreatown, countering their antipathy towards the homeless with love, compassion, openness, and services for our unhoused neighbors. William Jackson has also worked as a public servant, serving as Chair of the Homelessness Committee for Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council, where he succeeded in acquiring a trash disposal service for cleaning up garbage from the encampments in Ktown and where, also, he took part in developing LA’s first Homelessness Resource Fair that took place in 2019. Lastly, for over 2 years, Will has worked professionally in the field of homeless services as an Outreach Specialist and Housing Navigator for Housing Works CA, an organization started by Mollie Lowery where Housing First is a priority and housing itself is medicine.


Gary Painter, Director, USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, Homelessness Policy Research Institute
Saba Mwine, Managing Director, Homelessness Policy Research Institute





Tue, May 24
9:00 am - 11:00 am