New PSU podcast sheds light on homelessness

A new podcast from Portland State University’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative has developed a following for its nuanced conversations on a challenging topic. 

Understanding Homelessness tackles the underlying causes of homelessness, explains systems that perpetuate it, explores innovative solutions and shares stories from those with lived experiences.

Marisa Zapata

Marisa Zapata interviews guests on everything from why it takes so long to build affordable housing to understanding the inner workings of eviction court during the pandemic. There are eight episodes so far with new ones coming out once per month.

The podcast reached No. 11 in the country for nonprofit podcasts in the first three months. It has nearly 4,000 downloads, and the Portland Business Journal featured the podcast in an article earlier this fall.

But some of the most meaningful metrics come from listeners: 

“As someone who’s done street-level support work for going on a decade it’s frustrating how few podcasts on homelessness are willing to talk to or about unhoused folks as anything other than charity cases. Idea that they should and DO bring something to the table seems rare. Thx,” from @Gus_Kroll on twitter.

The latest episode features a conversation with Calvin, a peer advocate from Welcome Home Coalition’s advocacy training program. He shares his lived experience of homelessness and what made a difference for him. He also talks about why the work to address homelessness is not as easy as it may seem and why relationships are key. 

“How am I going to help that person? How am I going to help that person? How am I going to help that person?” You could be a genius, you still wouldn’t be able to … You’d have to get that person, talk with him, understand what’s going on with him. There’s a lot of stuff you’d have to do before you can even decide (how to help).”

Dr. Zapata said working on the podcast and interviewing people with lived experience has been incredibly moving. 

“It feels meaningful and powerful to share these stories,” Zapata said, “and I’m so grateful to everyone for sharing them with me.”

Find Understanding Homelessness online or wherever you get your podcasts including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, Youtube and iHeartRadio. The website includes original art, transcripts and recommended reading lists.


Portland State’s Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative addresses the challenges of homelessness through research that uncovers conditions that lead to and perpetuate homelessness. Our goal is to help reduce homelessness and its negative impacts on individuals, families and communities, with an emphasis on communities of color.

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