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Drew Tackles Homelessness in Morris County

Students and professors work with the community to find solutions.

December 2018 – Drew University is leading a grassroots initiative to research and address chronic homelessness in Morris County.

For the project, known as Neighbors in Need, Associate Professors of Sociology Kesha Moore and Susan Rakosi Rosenbloom assembled a community action team consisting of representatives from the Housing Alliance of Morris County, Monarch Housing Associates, the United Way and the Morris County Continuum of Care. The team also includes students Aleko Graham C’21 and Sophia George C’22 and two recipients of federal housing vouchers; each will be paid to help conduct research.

For the students, the initiative represents a hands-on learning experience outside of the classroom. The professors, meanwhile, are putting sociology into action as they partner with community leaders. Such collaboration enables the university to do research that is “empowering, not exploitative,” Moore explained.  “We’re here and we’re serving our community.”

Ultimately, the study will address what can be done to aid the chronically homeless, who may have attendant problems like addiction, disability or mental illness. Researchers will identify the services needed for a countywide intervention program. As Moore put it, “We want to build a resource net for the most vulnerable.”

Graham, who previously co-created a video about homelessness at Drew’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute, aims to “gather data around stigmatization and structural issues with the housing voucher program that can hopefully be used to implement some sort of policy change.”

Neighbors in Need, which is funded by Drew and a grant of nearly $100,000 from the Corporation of National and Community Service, began with training and will shift to data collection in January, when landlords, voucher recipients and other local stakeholders will be surveyed.

“Our goal is to really understand and unpack what the barriers are at each stage for people with vouchers to get housing,” said Moore. Nearly a third of federal housing vouchers distributed in Morris County, she noted, are returned after a year because recipients can’t find affordable housing.

At one point last year, 378 individuals were homeless in the county. That number included 206 in emergency shelters, 123 in transitional housing, 22 in safe havens and 27 unsheltered.