February 22, 2010

APA Task Force Report Outlines Actions Psychologists Can Take to End Homelessness

Calls for More Research, Training, Practice, Advocacy

WASHINGTON – Providing housing without addressing the psychosocial factors associated with homelessness is not enough to solve the overarching problem, according to a presidential task force report released today by the American Psychological Association.

The 2009 Presidential Task Force on Psychology’s Contribution to End Homelessness was commissioned to identify and address psychosocial factors and conditions associated with homelessness and define the role of psychologists in ending the phenomenon. The task force examined the scientific research into homelessness and conducted a Web-based survey to learn the extent of psychologists’ activities in relation to people without homes.

“Through research, training, practice and advocacy, the field of psychology can make invaluable contributions toward the remediation of homelessness,” said James H. Bray, PhD, immediate past president of APA who commissioned the task force. “The report of this task force is a call to our profession to work to end homelessness, which is a major public health concern.”

Psychologists in their roles as clinicians, researchers and educators have unique contributions to make toward ending homelessness, the task force said. Psychologists can assist by providing culturally competent psychological assessments, intensive case management, assertive community treatment, critical time intervention and ecologically based family therapy, which includes siblings and extended family members. “While the remediation of homelessness ultimately may depend mostly on improving the ratio between low-income households and increasing the number of affordable housing units, psychologists can play a role in helping people with mental health and substance abuse problems get and keep such housing,” the task force wrote.

Under the rubric of research, the task force report calls on psychologists to, among other things:

  • Direct research efforts toward preventing homelessness in marginalized and vulnerable populations;
  • Design and disseminate evidence-based interventions for people who are homeless;
  • Investigate methods to promote resilience in at-risk populations, including children and youth;
  • Evaluate programs with a focus on mechanisms that support a rapid return to permanent housing and methods for sustaining housing in vulnerable populations.

With respect to training, the report recommends that the discipline:

  • Incorporate into graduate school curricula theoretical and applied perspectives of working with populations at risk for homelessness;
  • Develop training opportunities for psychologists to work with at-risk populations;
  • Create continuing education programs that encourage psychologists to work with people who are homeless;
  • Enlist psychologists to work with service providers, charitable groups, community volunteers and others working to end homelessness.

Other recommendations include creating meaningful collaborations between psychologists and others working with the homeless and advocating for legislation that would fund housing and provide services to the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

A copy of the task force report may be obtained from APA’s Public Affairs office or Office on Socioeconomic Status.

Members of the APA Task Force on Psychology’s Contribution to End Homelessness:

James H. Bray, PhD
APA President, 2009

Norweeta G. Milburn, PhD, Chair
Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior
University of California – Los Angeles

Beryl Ann Cowan, J.D., PhD
Children’s Hospital Neighborhood Partnership
Boston, MA

Seymour Z. Gross, PhD
Hennepin County Mental Health Center
Minneapolis, MN

Allison N. Ponce, PhD
Yale University School of Medicine

Joseph Schumacher, PhD
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Paul Anderson Toro, PhD
Wayne State University

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.