Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Research: 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. The team is currently conducting a 12-yer follow-up study to understand the long-term effects of rental subsidies on families, and on the trajectories of children as they age into adulthood.
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.
Past collaborations with community organizations and research institutes include an experimental study of the Pathways Housing First intervention with adults who experience both chronic homelessness and serious mental illness, a survey of older adults in poverty to understand why some become homeless, an evaluation of New York City's street count, an effort to target supportive housing interventions for families at the intersection of the homeless and child welfare systems, and an experiment to determine whether a Family Critical Time intervention with rapid housing placements and transitional services fostered positive outcomes for children who were homeless with their families.
Beth’s 2020 book with Jill Khadduri, In the Midst of Plenty, Homelessness and What to Do About It, argues that research has shown us how to end homelessness for different groups, and the country has the resources – what we need is the political will.
Teaching: Beth teaches research methods, including Community Inquiry, which is the introductory methods course for doctoral students, Public Policy Development and Advocacy, and Philanthropy and Social Problem Solving. In the last class, funded by the Philanthropy Lab, students study community needs and decide how to give away $50,000 or more. In the past, Beth has taught Evaluation Research, Understanding Organizations, and Community Psychology.
Service: Beth currently serves on the college’s promotion an tenure committee. In the past, Beth has served as President for the Society for Community Research and Action and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and as a department chair at both Vanderbilt and at New York University.
Community Engagement: Locally, Beth serves on Nashville’s Homeless Planning Council, which is the organization mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to do planning and apply for HUD funds for our city. She has also served on the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Task Force and the Healthy Nashville leadership Council. At the national level, she serves on the research advisory board for the National Alliance to End Homelessness.