Public Policy Doctoral Candidate Caitlin Carey Engages on Issues of Homelessness in the Nation

Saadia Ahmad '17 | May 31, 2018
Public Policy Doctoral Candidate Caitlin Carey Engages on Issues of Homelessness in the Nation

Caitlin A. Carey, a third-year doctoral candidate in the Public Policy program at the McCormack Graduate School, was working at a homeless women’s shelter in Portland, Maine when she decided to pursue an advanced degree. She observed the implementation of several state and federal policies which, while well-intentioned, did not actually help people on the ground.

Carey explained, “At that point, I realized that people experiencing homelessness, as well as direct service staff, were largely excluded from the policy making process. I wanted to pursue an advanced degree in public policy with the goal of changing this process to include the opinions of the people who are impacted by these policies.”

The McCormack Graduate School’s Public Policy program provided her with the space, resources, and relationships to bridge this gap.

Her dissertation research points to the need for a “bottom-up” policy-making approach in dealing with homelessness. She recently defended the research proposal for her dissertation project, which analyzes Housing First as an approach to ending homelessness in the United States.

Since entering the graduate program, she has conducted research on federal policies that impact LGBTQ+ homelessness, the policy goals of anti-homeless ordinances in U.S. cities, and hostile architecture aimed at the homeless population in Boston. At McCormack, she took elective courses that focused on specific methodologies that she hoped to utilize in her research—such as Geographic Information Systems, survey design, and advanced quantitative methods. She’s transformed the term papers for these classes into conference presentations, policy memos, and future publications, in line with the McCormack Graduate School’s mission of conducting research for enacting policies and practices that positively impact the public.

One of these papers recently won the Student Paper Award for the Sociology and Social Welfare Division of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, which is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary community of scholars, practitioners, advocates, and students interested in the application of critical, scientific, and humanistic perspectives to the study of social problems.


Originally written for a class on Geographic Information Systems for Public Policy, the paper focused on the prevalence of hostile architecture, which involves designing urban spaces in such a way that the spaces discourage certain undesirable behaviors often associated with specific groups of people, such as people experiencing homelessness or using drugs. Focusing on hostile architecture in the Boston area, Carey’s research found that hostile architecture aimed at the homeless was more likely to appear further away from local homeless shelters, in areas zoned for business rather than residential use, and in areas with higher median incomes.

As the Student Paper Award recipient, Carey will present her findings at the Society for the Study of Social Problems’ annual conference later this summer in Philadelphia.

Additionally, at this year's Beacon Leadership Awards Ceremony, Carey was awarded the Beacon Graduate Student Leadership Award for using her research to advance social justice and for regularly organizing and presiding over panels at conferences throughout the country. She has also volunteered regularly at U-ACCESS on campus, which supports students who are experiencing homelessness, poverty, hunger, emancipation from foster care, and financial hardship.

One of the most beneficial aspects of the McCormack Graduate School, according to Carey, has been the Center for Social Policy (CSP), which offers expertise on policies and practices that aim to reduce and eliminate social and economic inequities. CSP focuses on issues such as low-wage jobs, barriers to housing affordability, and the impact of these patterns on families, communities, and society at large. Carey works as a research assistant at CSP with Dr. Susan Crandall, the Director, and has co-authored policy briefs and become involved with the On Solid Ground Coalition, a cross-sector advocacy and research organization that focuses on policy issues that impact low-income families. “This experience with applied research has been invaluable,” Carey remarked.

The support Carey has received from Dr. Michael Johnson, Professor and Chair of the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, has been vital to her success in the program. She has taken several courses with him, and he serves as her advisor and the chair of her dissertation committee. “He is an exceptional teacher and mentor. I hope to turn the term papers for both classes that I’ve taken from him into publications.” Carey advises current students and recent graduates to seek out a mentor like Dr. Johnson as they pursue their studies and careers. “Seek out a good mentor whose career trajectory is similar to the one that you hope to pursue.  The advice of mentors like Michael Johnson and Susan Crandall has been invaluable to me throughout graduate school,” she said.

A third-year student, she aims to graduate with her PhD in May of 2020, with the hope of pursuing a career in academia.

Tags: homelessness , policymaking , public policy , public policy phd program

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