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Maine college student using research to advocate for those experiencing homelessness

Brenna Jones is looking to bring a different perspective when addressing problems and creating solutions for the housing crisis in Maine.

ORONO, Maine — A student at the University of Maine is using her research to advocate for better solutions and address disparities when it comes to the housing crisis in Maine. 

Brenna Jones, a third-year sociology and mathematics student, has been researching the housing crisis in the state for her honors thesis, analyzing the current situation and gathering experiences from those currently struggling with homelessness. 

"This is a humanitarian crisis. Where we need to start thinking of these individuals as trying their best in a system that is at its worst," Jones said.

So far, she has interviewed 11 people spanning from a quick conversation to hours-long chats, all of which touched on the oftentimes unhelpful advice or remarks many unhoused folks come across. 

"Interviewing them just shows how broken the system actually is and how services are completely inaccessible," Jones said. "We cannot be telling people to access these services and that it's their fault if they are trying and it's still not working out for them."

She said solutions like gaining a good credit score, applying for housing, or a job may seem simple, but can compound into barriers that at times are impossible to get over due to constraints. 

Jones added one interviewee mentioned he tried to reach out for help and applied to be on Section 8 housing. He has been waiting for five years on a waiting list. 

Another mentioned that he felt treated as though "[those unhoused] are not the same level of human as they are."

Jones has been working under the mentorship of assistant sociology professor Brian Pitman. Pitman said work like hers is crucial when it comes to creating solutions that stick.  

"Until we actually understand the problem in and of itself, and actually come to it with an accurate analysis, we can't necessarily propose solutions that will actually address the problem," Pitman said. 

In high school, Jones said she herself struggled with being unhoused. Now with her perspective, she hopes to continue her research to help those who are in the same situation she was once in.

"In the interviews I'll be like, 'Oh I've experienced that as well,' and people are much more likely to be like, 'Let me tell you deeper into my experiences,'" Jones said. 

"They know what is best for them, they oftentimes know what resources they need, it's just a matter of listening to them and giving them those resources," Jones added. 

Jones plans on interviewing 10 additional folks for her research this summer.

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