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Marybeth Shinn Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair, Department of Human and Organizational Development

Expert in how to prevent and end homelessness

Biography

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

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

Tennessean January 15, 2021
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.

Paying Tribute to Those Who Passed in the Homeless Community

Nashville Scene January 04, 2021
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.

What Tennesseans can expect as CARES Act programs sunset in December

Tennessean December 06, 2020
"If nothing is done, I think we will see a wave of evictions, and families will move in with their friends and neighbors," said Dr. Marybeth Shinn, a Vanderbilt University professor and homelessness expert. "People will do everything they can to avoid literal homelessness. The moving in with other people will exacerbate COVID-19. We're not going to have — in the best scenarios — vaccines going to just ordinary people any time real soon, so there will be health consequences. Some additional people will become homeless, and more as time goes on if nothing is done."

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

CNN October 30, 2020
"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.

For struggling Tennessee renters, federal bans may only postpone evictions

Tennessean October 01, 2020
Marybeth Shinn, a professor at Vanderbilt University's Department of Human and Organizational Development, said the CDC order is an effective first step — it allows tenants time to come up with rent, look for assistance and work out settlements with their landlords — but it doesn't work as the only step if the U.S. intends to stave off a landslide of evictions for good.

Census takers head to homeless shelters, outdoor camps

AP News September 22, 2020
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.”

It took a pandemic for cities to finally address homelessness

Vox April 21, 2020
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.

Homeless population uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus pandemic

The Hill April 10, 2020
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.

Number of Homeless Students Rises to New High, Report Says

New York Times February 03, 2020
“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.

Unused TANF could reduce homelessness for Tennessee families | Opinion

Tennessean January 03, 2020
On a single night in January, 2018, 526 Tennessee families with over 1,000 children stayed in a homeless shelter or on the streets. Nearly a third of those families – the second highest proportion in the nation – were not even in a shelter. They bedded down for the night in cars, in bus stations, in doorways, under bridges, in tents. Those are numbers for just one night. Many more families experience homelessness at some time during the year. Many of those families have young children. Nationally, about half of children who are homeless with their families are aged 0-5. Young children are a blessing, but they need care that is costly or that takes a parent out of the workforce. An infant is more likely than a person of any other age to stay in a homeless shelter.

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