Skip to main content
Seattle University


Taking on family homelessness

Written by Mike Thee
February 8, 2010


The new fellows program is being led by Barry Mitzman, director of the Center for Strategic Communications, and Catherine Hinrichsen, project coordinator.

(Photo credits: left, SU archives; right, Valentina Vitols)

There are a lot of things about homelessness that go unreported. A new program at SU is trying to change that and raise awareness about the effects of homelessness on families and children.

With a $185,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Center for Strategic Communications in the College of Arts and Sciences has launched a fellowship for Washington state journalists to study and report on family homelessness. And they will present and discuss their work at a regional conference on family homelessness at Seattle University in November 2010. The program also offers a unique opportunity for eight SU students to serve as scholars supporting the fellows during spring quarter.

The program is being administered by Barry Mitzman, director of the center, and Catherine Hinrichsen, who recently became project coordinator after teaching in the Strategic Communications program as an adjunct for the past two years. 

Homeless families are “sort of invisible,” says Mitzman. “They tend to live in cars, motels, or campgrounds, or couch surf with relatives. They’re less likely to be in shelters or out on the street.”

Family homelessness is particularly disturbing, he says, because of the impact on children. It's estimated that approximately 1.5 million children become homeless in the United States each year. “Their lives are disrupted,” says Mitzman. “Their education is disrupted. There’s a significant social cost—these kids’ lives are affected for the longterm.” There is hope, says Mitzman, alluding to new approaches that are reducing family homelessness in cities like Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis.

A big part of the problem, he believes, has to do with what is reported in the media—or, more to the point, what is not reported.

Through the fellows program, seasoned journalists will get out there to uncover the tolls that homelessness takes on families and children as well as what can be done about it. Mitzman and Hinrichsen have not set a lot of ground rules for the journalists. What they are looking for, in Mitzman’s words, are “creative approaches that are likely to be impactful.”

As far as he knows, the program is unprecedented. “It’s the first of its kind for us, and I’m not aware of anything quite like it.”

As for the eight students chosen for the program, each will receive a scholarship and independent study credits. Most important, says Mitzman, the students will have an opportunity to “apply their skills in a real-world setting, develop an understanding about homelessness and be mentored by professional journalists.”