Public Administration Students Present Homelessness Recommendations to Boise Mayor Bieter
Public Policy and Administration Course Includes Strong Service Learning Component
Thirteen students presented their assessments and recommendations for tackling Boise’s homelessness crisis to Mayor Dave Bieter. The presentations, which were delivered at City Hall on April 20, examined the costs of homelessness to the community, analyzed the resources available to address it, and offered recommendations for reducing homelessness in Boise.
The graduate-level Public Administration in the Public Sector course is offered by the Public Policy and Administration department but draws students from a broad academic spectrum. In addition to Master of Public Administration majors, students come from disciplines as varied as Public Health, Criminal Justice and Political Science.
The project was facilitated by Public Policy and Administration Professor Wendy Jaquet and included a service learning component coordinated by Anna Bailey of Boise State Service Learning. Three teams of students delivered presentations to the mayor lasting 20 minutes each and utilizing large posters they created to illustrate their findings.
For the service-learning project, the students served meals at Interfaith Sanctuary, participated in the city-led Point-in-Time Count, interviewed stakeholders invested in the homelessness issue, and attended continuum of care meetings. This first-hand, personal contact helped the students get to know the homeless population as people rather than just as data points.
The need for a diverse approach to the issue was a common thread throughout the three presentations. Public Health major Molly Volk sees collaboration across multiple disciplines as both a vital factor in solving the city’s homelessness problem and as an important aspect in the success of her team, which combined health, data, and law enforcement perspectives. “We learned that collaboration is of the utmost importance in Public Administration. This is something we learn in textbooks, but this project demonstrated how important collaboration truly is.”
Professor Jaquet adds, “The students worked hard on incorporating their experiences with the homeless community with the academic side of public administration. As a result I am sure that they are coming away from this class with both the practitioner and book-learning components of public administration. I am very proud of them.”
The presentations also examined the costs of homelessness to the community, estimated at $6 million annually in Ada County alone. On average, each homeless person in Boise is estimated to draw $60,000 fro m the safety net system. With this in mind, students saw the cost-savings advantage of a more proactive approach to homelessness.
Coordination of services across various public agencies and the private sector was another recommendation. Master of Public Administration student Chloe Ross stated, “Homelessness cannot be solved by one stakeholder. It must be solved by coordination among multiple agencies.” MPA student McKenzie Case added, “People who are experiencing homelessness come from diverse backgrounds and situations. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Mayor Bieter expressed his appreciation to the students for the depth of thought and research they put into the project. “I’m really impressed and I don’t say that lightly. I’m really impressed by the way you’ve brought empirical data but also maintained the fact that these are not just statistics but are people.”
The mayor also appreciated the way the students avoided any “genie in a bottle” approach to the issue. “This is the toughest issue we have by far,” he said. “The level of discourse, the level of research, the level of conversation was very high. That’s what really impressed me.”