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Student Assists in Acclaimed National Report

By Kaitie O'Hare

Photo by Kaitie O'Hare

Photo by Kaitie O'Hare

First year sociology graduate student Sarah Okorie has found herself credited on the acknowledgements page of the US Conference of Mayor’s annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey. This impressive feat launched after she wandered into a professor’s office and struck up conversation about a shared interest in research.

The sociology enthusiast says she’s always loved to write and dreams of writing her own books someday. After many research projects during her undergraduate years at Cornell, Okorie has honed her passion for conducting and writing her own sociological research reports.

Such a strong interest led Okorie to the office of Professor Celine-Marie Pascale last semester, where she dropped by just to chat about the intersections of race, gender, and class. Pascale later recommended Okorie to the US Conference of Mayors to assist with the City Profile section of the 2010 Hunger and Homelessness Survey.

Okorie looked at raw information on homelessness and hunger gathered about 27 different cities and summarized the findings into charts and descriptive paragraphs.

“The city profiles are a snap shot of the state of hunger and homelessness in selected big cities,” says Okorie. The profiles give an overview of the leading causes of homelessness and hunger, how well the services in place meet the demands of the population, what the ideas and projections for the future are, and how homelessness and hunger have changed in the last year.

While writing the profiles, Okorie was struck by the impact the economy is having on housing and hunger issues for some of the country’s largest cities. “A lot of the cities’ homeless shelters are packed because people are losing their jobs and their homes are being foreclosed,” she says.

According to the report, unemployment is the leading cause of hunger issues in the cities surveyed, as well as the leading cause of homelessness among families. However, the report cites a lack of affordable housing as the leading cause for unaccompanied individual homelessness.

Okorie notes that although homelessness has increased in more than half of the cities surveyed, and that hunger has increased in all but one city, the severity of such issues differs by geographic region depending on the steps taken to combat homeless and hunger.

“Some cities are really successful with managing the state of hunger and homelessness in their cities. The programs they implemented or are implementing there are very successful,” she says.

Socioeconomic information like this is used by politicians, nonprofits, scholars, and activists to gauge poverty issues and implement new policies. The report is widely considered by many to be one of the most important reports in its subject area.

Okorie was glad to offer such substantial assistance in the survey, as it widened her area of experience. However, for now Okorie is simply pleased to see her name on the acknowledgements page of the Hunger and Homelessness Survey and to continue pursuing as many research opportunities as she can, including opportunities at the Center on Health, Risk, and Society, where she is currently a research assistant.