Homelessness is a Housing Problem: Book Talk & Panel Discussion

Date & Time: Monday, April 3, 2023, 1:00-2:30 pm ET
Location: Initiative on Cities, 75 Bay State Road
Lunch will be provided

Join the BU Initiative on Cities and the School of Social Work for a discussion on homelessness in America. Why do some cities have higher rates of homelessness than others? What explains that regional variation, and what can local leaders do to reduce and prevent homelessness?

The event will feature author Gregg Colburn (University of Washington), who will share insights from his recent book, Homelessness is a Housing Problem. Written in accessible style, Colburn and his co-author use hard data to test a range of conventional beliefs about what drives the prevalence of homelessness in a given city—including mental illness, drug use, poverty, weather, generosity of public assistance, and low-income mobility—and find that none explain why rates are so much higher in certain cities than others. Instead, housing market conditions, such as the cost and availability of rental housing, offer a more convincing explanation.

Following the book talk, a panel of experts – including Lyndia Downie (President, Pine Street Inn), Nikki Barfield (Deputy Director of Supportive Services for Veteran Families, VA), and a lived experience expert – will join the author for a discussion on housing policy solutions. BU Associate Professor of Social Work, Thomas Byrne, will moderate the discussion.

About the Panel

Lyndia Downie is President and Executive Director of the Pine Street Inn, which provides permanent supportive housing, job training and placement, emergency shelter, and street outreach to more than 2,000 individuals each day. Lyndia has worked with Pine Street Inn for her entire career – over 35 years, serving in her current role since 2000. As a result of her leadership and vision, Pine Street is now the largest provider of permanent supportive housing for men and women moving out of homelessness in New England, with 850 units of housing.

Nikki Barfield is the Deputy Director of Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The SSVF program provides case management and supportive services to prevent the imminent loss of a Veteran’s home or identify a new, more suitable housing situation for the individual and his or her family; or to rapidly re-house Veterans and their families who are homeless and might remain homeless without this assistance. Nikki is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who previously served as a Network Homeless Coordinator and was responsible for oversight of the Homeless Programs within VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8).

Thomas Byrne is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Boston University. His research focuses on homelessness, housing and veterans and has been published in journals including Health AffairsAmerican Journal of Public Health, and Housing Policy Debate. He believes that everyone should have a safe, stable, and decent place to live—and in fact, that it is a fundamental prerequisite for a fulfilling and dignified life. This conviction motivates both his scholarship and professional service. Outside of BU, Tom serves as an investigator for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Healthcare Outcomes & Implementation Research (CHOIR) in Bedford, Mass., and at the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans. He is also active in a number of initiatives to prevent and end homelessness in Massachusetts. He serves on the board of directors at Hearth, Inc., a Boston-based organization dedicated to eliminating homelessness among the elderly through prevention, placement and housing programs, and on the City of Boston’s Mayor’s Advisory Committee to End Homelessness.


The Boston University Initiative on Cities strives to be accessible, inclusive, and diverse in our programming. Your experience in this event is important to us. If you have a disability, require communication access services for Deaf or hard-of-hearing persons, or believe that you require a reasonable accommodation for another reason, please get in touch with Stacy Fox at sfox@bu.edu to discuss your needs. 

Homelessness is a Housing Problem

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