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Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Human and Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University

Marybeth (Beth) Shinn studies how to prevent and end homelessness and create opportunities for groups that face social exclusion. She seeks to use research to shape social policy. The 12-site Family Options study she conducted with colleagues at Abt Associates and Vanderbilt shows that offering long-term rental subsidies to families in homeless shelters not only ends homelessness for most but has radiating benefits for parents and children and reduces problems like substance abuse, domestic violence, and psychological distress that can sometimes cause homelessness. Qualitative interviews with 80 of the families across four sites helped to understand families’ experiences in the homeless service system, how they make housing decisions, and why so many parents become separated from their children.

Prevention of homelessness requires both that programs be effective and that they go to the “right” people – those for whom they will make the most difference. Targeting may be the harder problem. Thousands of people apply for New York City’s HomeBase homelessness prevention services each year. Shinn and students developed targeting models that the City has adopted to get services to the people most likely to become homeless without them, and have shown that there are no people too “risky” to serve.

Other collaborations with community organizations and research institutes include an experimental study of the Pathways Housing First intervention with adults who experience both chronic homelessness and serious mental illness, a survey of older adults in poverty to understand why some become homeless, an evaluation of New York City's street count, an experiment to determine whether a Family Critical Time intervention with rapid housing placements and transitional services fostered positive outcomes for children who were homeless with their families, a collaboration with the Urban Institute to understand which families involved in both the child protective service system and the homeless service system can benefit from supportive housing, and collaborations with colleagues in Portugal and Italy to understand how to foster capabilities for people with serious mental illnesses or who experience homelessness.

Teaching: Beth teaches research methods, including Community Inquiry, which is the introductory methods course for doctoral students, Public Policy Development and Advocacy, and Philanthropy and Social Problem Solving. In the last class, funded by the Philanthropy Lab, students study community needs and decide how to give away $50,000 or more. In the past, Beth has taught Evaluation Research, Understanding Organizations, and Community Psychology.

Service: Beth has served as President for the Society for Community Research and Action and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

Community Engagement: Locally, Beth serves on Nashville's Homelessness Planning Council and served previously on the Healthy Nashville leadership Council. At the national level, she serves on the Research Council for the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Board of Directors for the Partnership for the Homeless in New York City.


  • 2008–present
    Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Human and Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University
  • 1978–2008
    Professor, New York University


  • 1978 
    University of Michigan, Ph.D.
  • 1973 
    Harvard University, A.B.


Beth has received research or publication awards from the Society for Community Research and Action, the Society for Research on Adolescence, and the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management