Susan Buchino, assistant professor in UofL’s School of Public Health and Information Sciences, has consulted with Louisville Metro since 2019, providing research and programmatic evaluation on multiple homeless initiatives. Her research resulted in a report on solving street homelessness in Louisville, and her work continues to make an impact. Now, Buchino will coordinate the city’s homeless initiatives as the recently-named Homeless Services Director.
UofL News caught up with Buchino to discuss her new joint appointment, and how her research is serving as a foundation for positive change.
UofL News: Why did you decide to take on the city’s new role of Homeless Services Director?
Buchino: Homelessness has a tremendous public health impact, and it’s an issue that has a solution. Our community has a shortage of affordable housing, and COVID has only exacerbated housing instability. Since the city has prioritized funding housing initiatives with American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, there is a real opportunity for creating systemic changes and making progress. I’m hopeful that by being in a leadership position, I can raise awareness of the root causes of houselessness while being part of enacting solutions.
UofL News: How does it feel to know your efforts have been recognized by city officials, and you’ll provide leadership and guidance to solve difficult challenges?
Buchino: This is the dream, isn’t it? To see our research become a basis for positive change, and use our super powers for good. It’s truly humbling that I have been asked to serve the community in this way.
UofL News: Much of your research and community-engagement seems to have led you to this juncture. Explain a little about this journey.
Buchino: As an occupational therapist, I worked in community-based practice settings to support individuals with chronic and persistent mental illness who were homeless or at risk of homelessness. When I transitioned to public health, it was because I witnessed how systemic gaps and barriers perpetuated poor health instead of supporting wellness, and my research has always been through that lens.
Two years ago, I led a team of UofL researchers in examining national best practices and our own system of care, providing recommendations for policy and system-level changes. After that report, Louisville Metro leadership, through the Homelessness Task Force, embraced our recommendations, and I have continued to be engaged in the city’s work since then.
UofL News: You have a clear passion to address houselessness. What fuels that passion?
Buchino: I am inspired by the people I have met throughout my career and volunteer positions. Housing is a right. Housing saves lives.
More often than not, a person becomes houseless not because of their own failure, but because systems fail them. Losing housing is traumatic, and yet we require people in crisis to navigate a complex and overwhelming system to find the resources they need, when our community should have provided those resources to prevent everyone from being unhoused. There’s no justice in that.
UofL News: Your time is now split between UofL and the city. How will your continued research and expertise as a faculty member inform changes you’ll be able to implement in the community?
Buchino: The Homeless Services Division (HSD) aims to make data-driven decisions about how we can be strategic in our approach to reduce the number of gaps and barriers that we see both inside Louisville Metro government and within the system of care.
Personally, my research has aimed to advance equity and elevate the voices of those with lived experiences. Often, we don’t ask people how we can help, and make assumptions that what we do as professionals will work for them. The unhoused population is creative, resilient and deserve to be included in the problem-solving process.
UofL News: What initiatives do you hope to lead as Homeless Services Director?
Buchino: I’m excited that the HSD is involved in the ARP projects that will both serve our unhoused neighbors and increase the affordable housing inventory. Beyond housing, the 2019 report provided seven recommendations toward systemic improvement, and Louisville Metro adopted those recommendations as a strategic plan. HSD brings the capacity to address those strategies, as well as to increase coordination and communication between providers, policy makers and the community.
UofL News: Anything else you’d like to share?
Buchino: Addressing homelessness is a community issue, and not something that one department, one organization or even one sector can resolve. We need to create community-wide synergy around solutions. To learn more about root causes of homelessness and solutions, visit knowhomelessness.com.