The University of California San Diego is launching the region’s first large-scale, university-based research and data hub focused exclusively on homelessness, thanks to campus friends Phyllis and Dan Epstein and Hanna and Mark Gleiberman. Each couple has donated $1 million to the university to establish the Homelessness Hub at UC San Diego. The new program, in the university’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, will serve as a non-partisan hub for research, education, policy and action on homelessness.
“Longtime university supporters and community philanthropists Phyllis, Dan, Hanna and Mark share a common conviction that society’s biggest challenges require focused efforts and resources to solve,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “The Homelessness Hub at UC San Diego has the potential to make a significant impact in understanding and addressing the factors that lead to homelessness. We are grateful to the Epsteins and Gleibermans for their vision to imagine and fund this important and much-needed research.”
The Epsteins and Gleibermans were recently honored by Chancellor Khosla with Chancellor’s Medals, one of the highest honors given by UC San Diego to recognize exceptional service in support of the campus’s mission. Their gifts also contribute to the Campaign for UC San Diego, which will conclude on June 30, 2022.
“Having worked in the real estate industry for many years, we have seen first-hand the many struggles our community faces with regard to housing,” said Mark Gleiberman. “It’s our hope that the Homelessness Hub at UC San Diego will work collaboratively with universities, nonprofits and public agencies to use data-driven strategies to inform policymakers on how to approach and alleviate the homelessness crisis in San Diego.”
“When we reflect on our philanthropy, our core themes are empathy and compassion,” added Hanna Gleiberman.
San Diego is the 8th largest city in the U.S., and no university-based research collaborative on homelessness exists south of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, reports show that homelessness in the region also increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the Regional Task Force on Homelessness estimated that the number of first-time homeless people in the county grew from 2,326 in 2019 to 4,152 in 2020, a 79% increase.
“Homelessness has remained a long-term problem in San Diego and we should turn to the best researchers we have to identify thoughtful solutions. The University of California will play a constructive role in that regard,” Dan Epstein said. “This is about getting people not only a place to live, but everything that goes along with it. UC San Diego can identify what people need and how best to offer services, and then the real work begins.”
The Homelessness Hub at UC San Diego is designed to address this issue by bringing together and drawing upon the wisdom of researchers, service providers, civic leaders and unhoused San Diegans to conduct critical research, synthesize and communicate findings, as well as inform local policy and action to address homelessness.
"Imagine, for example, if we could optimize San Diego’s winter shelter network,” said Mirle Rabinowitz Bussell, an associate teaching professor and director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at UC San Diego. “Where should we locate shelters? What services should be offered? For how long? For how many people? How can we link safe overnight parking to help prevent homelessness in the first place? Now, through the Homelessness Hub at UC San Diego, we have the opportunity to collaborate with nonprofit leaders and elected officials to make decisions that move us toward the goal of eliminating homelessness.”
The collaborative will allow researchers to track data and statistics related to homelessness in the region comprehensively and in real time, which has not been possible to date. “Our goal with the Homelessness Hub at UC San Diego is to be proactive rather than reactive,” said Leslie Lewis, continuing lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. “The collaborative will allow researchers from UC San Diego and other universities to better understand the roots and disparate impacts of homelessness, and increase the effectiveness of interventions.”
The concept of the Homelessness Hub at UC San Diego was sparked when the Gleibermans supported a research study to evaluate the effectiveness of the Safe Parking Program operated by Jewish Family Service (JFS) of San Diego. The Safe Parking Program provides a welcoming environment for families to stay overnight in their vehicles in four parking lots throughout the county. The program also offers basic needs assistance, family wellness and financial education. The study illuminated some of the root causes of the issue, including personal tragedies that compound structural challenges such as widespread economic precarity and a dearth of affordable housing in our region.
Part of the Gleibermans’ gift also helped support teaching courses on homelessness in which UC San Diego students visited the Safe Parking sites, served dinner to the clients and conducted oral history interviews to understand the diversity of this population and the day-to-day challenges unhoused San Diegans face. Students shared how these experiences have profoundly changed their own thinking and attitudes about this complicated issue. “This course has made me more deeply understand the intersectionality between health and homelessness, which I hope to tackle in my future in health care,” said student Megha Aepala.
The Homelessness Hub at UC San Diego also benefited from seed funding from the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research and the Lucky Duck Foundation.
Philanthropic gifts, like these from the Epsteins and the Gleibermans, contribute to the Campaign for UC San Diego, the university’s comprehensive fundraising effort which concludes in June 2022. Alongside UC San Diego’s philanthropic partners, the university is continuing its nontraditional path toward revolutionary ideas, unexpected answers, lifesaving discoveries and planet-changing impact. To learn more about the program, visit the Homelessness Hub at UC San Diego website. Those interested in supporting the Homelessness Hub can visit this Homelessness Action, Research and Policy (HARP) Fund page.