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How could I use Psychology to help the homeless?

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Daniela’s Answer


Hi, Samuel

Although the causes of homelessness are not primarily psychological, there are many roles for psychologists in ending it. The first is in educating policy makers, the media and the public. One important issue is the difference between point and period prevalence, and the vastly greater efforts that are needed to house the numbers of people likely to experience homelessness over a decade compared with a single night. A second is in the implications of the fundamental attribution error. It is wonderful that the Australian Psychological Society wants to do its part in ending homelessness, but it is important not to imply that the causes of homelessness are essentially psychological, letting policy makers off the hook. However, psychologists can work to understand attitudes towards social expenditures and the mechanisms by which social exclusion is associated with homelessness.

Psychologists can also design, implement and study programs to prevent and end homelessness for particular groups. For many poor people, affordable housing may be enough. Women additionally need safety from domestic violence. Adolescents need programs that respect their needs for autonomy and relatedness, and that provide support if they cannot be reunited with families. The French Foyer Model in which young people receive shared accommodation with supports on condition that they participate in education, training or employment (Homelessness Taskforce, 2008) seems promising. Adults with mental illness need ongoing assistance, such as supported housing. An especially successful and cost-effective model in the United States is called Housing First. Individuals with serious mental illness and co-occurring substance problems receive their own apartments with private landlords, directly from the streets, and ongoing services from interdisciplinary Assertive Community Treatment teams (e.g., Gulcur et al., 2003). Critical Time Interventions (e.g., Susser et al., 1997) that help to stabilise people in communities can be helpful for individuals leaving institutions. Older adults may need ongoing care in specialist facilities.

Psychologists should use their skills as researchers to evaluate intervention programs with rigorous designs.



Best of luck!