Portland State University announced today the creation of two university research centers focused on solving some of Portland’s biggest challenges – homelessness, traffic and environmental sustainability.
The PSU Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative will harness the power of faculty expertise and research to find solutions to reduce homelessness, understand its root causes, and use evidence-based science to empower community leaders, elected officials, frontline-service providers, and advocates to make informed decisions.
The PSU Digital City Testbed Center will explore how technology can make cities more safe, accessible, economically viable, healthy and climate-friendly, while also addressing concerns about privacy, security, and equity. The Center will coordinate a network of academic, corporate and museum campuses in the Pacific Northwest where cities, companies, university researchers and the public can evaluate new technologies before installing in neighboring communities.
“Portland State’s mission is to use our vast knowledge and expertise to serve the city by addressing its most critical issues,” PSU President Rahmat Shoureshi said. “Creating these two university research centers was a high priority for me to fulfill our mission. Both centers will expand upon the existing research and scholarship our renowned faculty have produced in these areas to find innovative and effective solutions for the future.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said: “Addressing homelessness is an all hands-on-deck effort. I’m energized PSU is making the important investment of a Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative, to address challenges of homelessness on the local level and beyond.
PSU’s Digital City Testbed Center, the mayor said, “will help advance smart city innovation. Together, these investments will unite the City of Portland and the university in a collective effort to promote the success of our city and our citizens.”
The centers, which will be housed at PSU’s downtown campus, are designed to integrate faculty and student researchers across all PSU colleges. In a major commitment of support, PSU will provide $500,000 seed funding per year for each center for three years.
“Our community’s response to the housing crisis is stronger when our partners like Portland State step up and come to the table,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “This commitment to contribute their academic rigor and research capabilities to our efforts represent the best of our community."
Because of the relevance and importance of their areas of focus, each center will also be tasked with securing external funding from local, state and national governmental and non-governmental organizations, with a particular focus on federal agencies. The Centers’ missions are to conduct research and function as major solution-oriented think-tanks, while collaborating with the various local agencies and organizations that are responsible for addressing these issues and opportunities.
“We believe that research and collaboration will be a powerful combination to address Portland’s most vexing challenges as it continues to grow,” said Mark McLellan, PSU’s Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies. “The centers will bring together the greatest minds on campus with the considerable knowledge and expertise off campus to better tackle these issues.”
The Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative will be charged with:
- Building a university research center guided by community voice and engaged with community-based research
- Empowering community members, decision-makers and leaders with research-based information to support those experiencing homelessness and prevent homelessness in the future
- Conducting research to identify possible solutions that address racism and bias in creating and perpetuating homelessness
- Discovering how to balance existing support for those experiencing homelessness with crafting long-term solutions
- Educating the community while encouraging community action
Existing research by the faculty and staff from the homelessness collaborative includes the design and development of sleeping pods for women and veterans experiencing homelessness, analysis of annual point-in-time count data of the number of people experiencing homelessness, studies of equity and housing policies, and the intersection of homelessness and mental illness, among others.
The Digital City Testbed Center will be charged with:
- Educating and informing the public on how technology can responsibly improve cities
- Creating testbeds – research platforms to test scientific theories, computational tools, and new technologies – on academic, corporate and nonprofit campuses. The testbeds will be used by cities, startups, tech companies, and nonprofits to evaluate how sensor-based data collection systems, policies and software can help cities become more efficient, equitable, accessible and sustainable
- Engaging PSU students in research that promote the responsible adoption of smart city technologies such as electronic data collection from sensors that monitor things such as traffic, air quality, water quality, and wireless networks
- Bringing together interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students from across PSU to carry out research and analysis of smart city projects on other campuses of contrasting size, mission and urban character.
- Exploring applications and public acceptance of technologies that make transportation and other city services more accessible, economically viable, safe and just.
Existing research for the testbed center will include Portland’s Traffic Sensor Safety Network (being deployed in partnership with Intel, GE and ATT), the Connected Streetcar Project, air quality monitoring at Harriet Tubman Middle School, and programs designed to help people with visual impairment and those who use wheelchairs better negotiate their way through cities, among others.