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Marybeth Shinn

Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair, Department of Human and Organizational Development

Expert in how to prevent and end homelessness


Marybeth (Beth) Shinn studies how to prevent and end homelessness and create opportunities for groups that face social exclusion. She seeks to use research to shape social policy. The 12-site Family Options study she conducted with colleagues at Abt Associates and Vanderbilt shows that offering long-term rental subsidies to families in homeless shelters not only ends homelessness for most but has radiating benefits for parents and children and reduces problems like substance abuse, domestic violence, and psychological distress that can sometimes cause homelessness. Qualitative interviews with 80 of the families across four sites helped to understand families’ experiences in the homeless service system, how they make housing decisions, and why so many parents become separated from their children. Prevention of homelessness requires both that programs be effective and that they go to the “right” people – those for whom they will make the most difference. Targeting may be the harder problem. Thousands of people apply for New York City’s HomeBase homelessness prevention services each year. Shinn and students developed targeting models that the City has adopted to get services to the people most likely to become homeless without them, and have shown that there are no people too “risky” to serve.

Media Appearances

  • Impact of Eviction On Homelessness

    Recently, the Supreme Court ended the Biden's Administration Eviction Moratorium, possibly putting thousands at risk of being evicted. On today's MorningLine, we talk to Professor Marybeth Shinn, with Vanderbilt University, about how this could impact Tennessee, and how it might exacerbate the homeless crisis in our community. Be sure to watch to learn more.

    September 2nd, 2021

  • As eviction moratorium nears end, concerns grow about rising housing costs

    According to Marybeth Shinn, a professor of human and organizational development at Vanderbilt University, evictions might not result in a spike in homelessness because those who are evicted typically move in with others or find someplace else to go. There might not be enough federal relief to go around, though, even if states do a better job of distributing it.

    July 16th, 2021

  • The eviction moratorium is lifting. For many, the threat of losing housing never went away

    “We read a lot about how women have been kind of forced out of the workforce during COVID, and that’s going to enhance vulnerability to homelessness,” said Marybeth Shinn, a professor of human and organizational development at Vanderbilt University. “Minorities, particularly African Americans and Native Americans, are at much greater risk of homelessness. Even relative to their proportion in poverty. And among young people, LGBTQ young people are at particular risk.”

    July 30th, 2021

  • 'These are humans.' Obituary project honors 131 homeless people who died in Nashville in 2020

    Vanderbilt University professor and homelessness expert Dr. Marybeth Shinn and Vanderbilt master's of public health candidate India Pungarcher are working this year to craft one-line obituaries for as many of these people as they can in an effort to reveal the humanity behind the statistic.

    January 15th, 2021

  • Paying Tribute to Those Who Passed in the Homeless Community

    In 2020 in Nashville, 132 people who were experiencing homelessness or had a history of homelessness died. It’s a high number, but one that could be easily overlooked given the vulnerable population it represents. That’s why Beth Shinn, a professor at Vanderbilt University, and India Pungarcher, a public health student at Vanderbilt and resource coordinator with Open Table Nashville — a nonprofit dedicated to homelessness outreach and alleviating poverty — set up the online memorial and study Humanizing the Statistic. The effort is a tribute to people experiencing homelessness who died in 2020, and features photos and one-sentence obituaries.

    January 4th, 2021

  • There are 9.9 million Americans who are not up-to-date on their rent or mortgage payments. Here's how you can get help now

    "Homelessness is the worst manifestation of inequality," said Marybeth Shinn, a professor at Vanderbilt University's Department of Human and Organizational Development. Shinn described homelessness as a lagging indicator of the economic crisis induced by the pandemic.

    October 30th, 2020

  • Census takers head to homeless shelters, outdoor camps

    Trying to count people living outdoors will be the toughest part of the homeless enumeration, said Beth Shinn, a professor at Vanderbilt University who researches homelessness. “People have good reason to be hidden when they’re outdoors, for safety reasons,” Shinn said. “People find places to be that aren’t necessarily visible to passersby.”

    September 22nd, 2020

  • It took a pandemic for cities to finally address homelessness

    Ultimately, solving homelessness means increasing affordable housing: building more public housing, providing more housing vouchers, and investing in bringing down rent. The benefits of providing secure, long-term homes for families through rental assistance are already documented, said Vanderbilt Prof. Marybeth Shinn, who wrote a book about the importance of permanent housing called In the Midst of Plenty: Homelessness and What to Do About It. “If families just get access to housing that they could afford that was secure over the long term, they’re able to use it as a platform to change all kinds of other aspects and improve other aspects of their lives,” she said.

    April 21st, 2020

  • Homeless population uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus pandemic

    Marybeth Shinn, the Cornelius Vanderbilt chair of the Department of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University, says that people experiencing homelessness are poised to suffer the most as the pandemic rages. Individuals experiencing homeless often have underlying or preexisting conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, and were already in vulnerable positions before the virus spread. They also lack the same health care resources as their housed counterparts. “People who are experiencing homelessness are our most disenfranchised neighbors and fellow citizens,” she says.

    April 10th, 2020

  • Number of Homeless Students Rises to New High, Report Says

    “People don’t let their school officials know when they’ve been homeless,” said Marybeth Shinn, a professor at Vanderbilt University who researches homelessness. Professor Shinn said the data also left out children who were not yet in kindergarten and who make up a significant portion of the overall number of homeless children. The numbers, she said, do not capture the impact homelessness may have on children throughout their lifetimes. “The question is: What are the long-term effects of homelessness on children, as opposed to the very immediate effects?” she said.

    February 3rd, 2020


B.A., Radcliffe College, Harvard University

M.A., University of Michigan

Ph.D., University of Michigan


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