Counting the Homeless
March 22, 2018 — School of Management Professor Jay Bainbridge spent part of his semester break in Paris, but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Bainbridge was in the French capital to count homeless people with a team from Bloomberg Associates, an international philanthropic consulting service founded by former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Bloomberg Associates seeks to help international cities in a wide variety of disciplines, including social services, urban planning sustainability, and municipal integrity. The organization’s services are free and Bainbridge has been a consultant to the group on homelessness since 2014. He has the perfect background for the work. Before joining Marist’s Department of Public and Nonprofit Administration in 2009, Bainbridge was Assistant Commissioner of Policy and Research at the Department of Homeless Services in New York City. He was part of the first-ever count of the homeless in New York City in 2005. Working with Bloomberg, he has been part of homeless counts in Mexico City, Bogota, and now Paris’s La Nuit de la Solidarité.
“Jay is unique because as an academic, he can work with Bloomberg Associates to provide technical assistance for the development of sophisticated methodology to conduct a citywide survey or census,” said Tamiru Mammo, a Bloomberg Associates consultant. “As a former city administrator, he also provides assistance in planning the operations required for these large-scale projects involving city bureaucracy and external stakeholders.” Jay Bainbridge
Counts are typically staffed by trained volunteers. The Paris effort was conducted “expertly, and in a collaborative manner that involved dozens of partner associations,” Bainbridge explained. “There were about 1,700 citizen volunteers, and that engaged the national government. This is important because the solution to homelessness will require knowledge and actions across sectors and levels of government, and Paris has set itself up well to commit to being accountable for those living on the streets, and to engage the major partners who share responsibility.”
“There can be tensions with conducting counts,” Bainbridge noted. “Some people will wonder why a count is needed when a city should just be providing services. But often a count leads to positive initiatives.” Concerns about use of resources is a key reason why volunteers are engaged to do the work. In Paris, the count was higher than officials expected and will likely lead to more services.
“In Mexico City, the count we conducted led to the establishment of supportive housing and homeless prevention services,” said Bainbridge.
Mammo concurred. “Street counts help cities to understand the magnitude of homelessness, where it occurs, and how it changes from year to year. It’s a crucial part of the strategic planning process, a management tool that shows whether progress is being made, and a communications tool that holds the city leadership accountable to the public.”
At Marist, Bainbridge brings this vast experience to the classroom by teaching a first-year writing seminar on homelessness. He also has published articles in the American Journal of Public Health on topics related to homelessness prevention, aging of the homeless population, and the health of the homeless.
What’s next? Bainbridge hopes to work on another Bloomberg effort to conduct a homeless street count in Athens, Greece. He’s also excited about the possibility of a conference of cities during the summer, with presentations about lessons learned and proposed innovations moving forward. The motivation is clear for Bainbridge. “We need to provide services to people who need them and solve problems.”
Located on the banks of the historic Hudson River and at its Florence, Italy campus, Marist College is a comprehensive, independent institution grounded in the liberal arts. Its mission is to “help students develop the intellect, character, and skills required for enlightened, ethical, and productive lives in the global community of the 21st century.” Marist is consistently recognized for excellence by The Princeton Review (Colleges That Create Futures and The Best 381 Colleges), U.S. News & World Report (9th Best Regional University/North), Kiplinger’s Personal Finance (“Best College Values”), and others. Though now independent, Marist remains committed to the ideals handed down from its founders, the Marist Brothers: excellence in education, a sense of community, and a commitment to service. Marist educates approximately 5,000 traditional-age undergraduate students and 1,400 adult and graduate students in 47 undergraduate majors and 15 graduate programs, including fully online MBA, MPA, MS, and MA degrees.