Community-Academic Advocacy to Improve Shelter Access for Families Experiencing Homelessness

Pediatrics. 2023 Feb 1;151(2):e2022057935. doi: 10.1542/peds.2022-057935.


A 2012 Massachusetts shelter eligibility regulation required many families to spend a night in a location "not meant for human habitation" before qualifying for the state-run shelter system, and many families experiencing homelessness stayed in pediatric emergency departments (EDs) overnight to meet this requirement. ED clinicians initially recognized an increase in ED visits for homelessness after this regulation and began compiling and sharing stories with key institutional and community partners and stakeholders. To bolster advocacy efforts, the authors collected data on the magnitude of the problem and its associated health care costs. Guided by the policy knowledge of community partners, the authors leveraged the expertise and advocacy power of clinicians to share these data and stories with legislators via written and oral testimony, community events, and the media. Academic publication lent additional credibility and exposure to their research. In 2019, the Massachusetts Legislature passed budget language to overturn the 2012 shelter eligibility regulation. However, despite this policy victory, some families continue to present to EDs for homelessness. Therefore, current advocacy efforts have shifted focus toward implementation and enforcement of the new policy, monitoring issues, and developing new programmatic responses. In this advocacy case study, we illustrate how clinicians have unique abilities to serve as effective advocates for social policy change using a framework of strategies including storytelling, coalition building, tailored communication, and data sharing. Partnering with existing advocacy networks within their institution and community enhances the advocacy efforts of all stakeholders to influence social and health outcomes for children and families.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Government Agencies
  • Health Care Costs
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons*
  • Social Problems