University Letter

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Isaac Karikari delivers keynote at FM Coalition to End Homelessness’ 7th Annual Conference

Isaac Karikari

Isaac Karikari, assistant professor of social work, recently delivered a keynote at the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition to End Homelessness’ 7th Annual Conference, in Moorhead, Minn.

In his keynote, Karikari discussed what he calls a “vicious triad” of homelessness, substance use and mental health issues. These issues are independently complex, he said, so their intersection results in an overly complex situation with dire implications for peoples’ health and well-being.

According to a count from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as many as 500 people are experiencing homelessness in North Dakota. And, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 2,500 North Dakota schoolchildren are homeless.

“The glaring disparity with those numbers raises questions about how homelessness is determined and estimated,” Karikari said. “The shared consensus among keynote participants was that the prevalence of homelessness in North Dakota, as well as nationally, cannot be underestimated.”

In North Dakota, which is mostly rural and subject to inclement winter weather, the general perception of homelessness – sleeping on sidewalks, park benches, under bridges and tent cities – is less visible, Karikari said.

Research in his field shows that homelessness entails much more than just the absence of housing. In defining homelessness, considerations must also include stability, permanence and safety.

“The relationship between homelessness, substance use and mental health can be cyclical,” Karikari said. “It can be very much like the chicken-or-the-egg question.

“There are cases where homelessness and housing insecurity marks the onset of mental health and substance use challenges but the reverse is also true – homelessness can be both a consequence and a cause.”

He, however, stressed that despite the common association, being homeless is not synonymous with mental illness or substance use disorders. Mental and emotional health issues, as well as substance use disorders, affect a large portion of the general population, regardless of housing status.

Much of Karikari’s presentation drew from his ongoing research with Bret Weber, department chair and professor of social work, involving interviews and surveys with people experiencing chronic homelessness.

His keynote emphasized and advocated for the need to review and revise current methods and frameworks for examining the prevalence of homelessness. He also highlighted the need for a broader perspective paying attention to the heterogeneity and diversity of people experiencing homelessness, Indigenous homelessness, and considering the impacts of settler colonialism and intergenerational trauma.

About the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition to End Homelessness

Founded in 1989, the Coalition has maintained a commitment to addressing homelessness in the Fargo-Moorhead area and by extension, North Dakota. The Coalition utilizes grassroots and community-based approaches, and “through unified advocacy, partner education and trainings, and community and regional collaboration” endeavors to make the experience of homelessness a short stint for individuals and families. The Coalition was a key leader in the implementation of the City of Fargo’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Led by Interim Executive Director Corina Bell, this year’s conference hosted more than 100 participants.