From left: Peter Huleatt '23, Bram Mansbach '24, and Levitt Center Assistant Director Zach Schuman speak with Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri.
Homelessness is a growing problem in most cities across the nation, including Utica. The city’s mayor, Robert Palmieri, recently partnered with Hamilton’s Levitt Public Affairs Center to better understand the scope of the issue in the area and how to address it.

Levitt Center Summer Community Impact Fellows Peter Huleatt ’23 and Bram Mansbach ’24 began their research in the summer of 2022 with Distinguished Lecturer in American Public Policy and Practice Gwen Dordick. Through the program, student fellows participate in community-based internships and projects while engaging in reflection, community building, and readings relevant to their research interests. Huleatt and Mansbach conducted interviews with institutional leaders, analyzed housing and homelessness databases, and drafted a report for the city’s Department of Urban and Economic Development over a two-month period.

“Having volunteered around unhoused populations in the past, I was fascinated by the idea of directing my experience toward an academic, research-based project,” Mansbach said. “With the Levitt's Center partnership with the City of Utica, I knew that our work had the potential to really make a difference in local policy.”

Dordick continued the research throughout the fall while she also taught a course titled Urban Homelessness and Social Policy in the U.S. that was part of the College’s semester-long Justice Lab. She is the first author of the completed study, “The Chronically Unhoused Populations of Oneida Square and the Service Landscape,” along with Mansbach, Huleatt, and Levitt Center Assistant Director Zack Schuman.

Advocating for a Better World

Students who took part in the Levitt Center's Justice Lab during the fall 2022 semester took four classes together and pursued related internships where they investigated factors that impact community wellness in the area.

At a Utica City Hall press conference with Palmieri on Feb. 16, Dordick presented the research findings, emphasizing that housing should always come first followed by attention to issues of addiction and medication management. She cited research to support the approach since the concept of “housing first” contradicts most current approaches to homelessness nationally.

The press conference at Utica City Hall.
The press conference at Utica City Hall. Photo: Zack Stanek

“Initially, we thought that suggesting a harm reduction approach would be an uphill battle, but as we collected evidence, it was really rewarding to see everyone come to the table and hear us out,” said Mansbach, who is planning to pursue additional work through the Levitt Center and possibly continue this research as part of his senior thesis. “I had no idea the policy brief would pick up the momentum that it did. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined being able to sit in the mayor's conference room with other city officials, discussing best practices to address Utica's unhoused population.”

Part of the challenge, Dordick pointed out, is the lack of good data – a national problem – on who homeless people are and where there are gaps in resources available to them. She stressed the ongoing need for coordination with the hospital, police, and fire personnel, and for engaging landlords.

At the press conference, Palmieri expressed gratitude for the group’s efforts. “Gwen is making sure that we are [addressing homelessness] right and with the right resources,” Palmieri said as he thanked Hamilton, Dordick, and other partners who worked on the issue.

“Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined being able to sit in the mayor's conference room with other city officials, discussing best practices to address Utica's unhoused population.”

This year’s Levitt Center Summer Community Impact Fellows program included 12 student fellows who tackled a diverse range of local projects focused on complex social issues of national and global significance, including clean energy and sustainability, chronic homelessness, voting access, and human rights. For Huleatt, spending the summer as a fellow gave him the chance to spend more time exploring the closest city to College Hill.

“Utica is a city with a rich history and dedicated public servants,” he said. “Taking a summer to meet and experience Utica, from its culinary treats to the many faces behind its services, helped me gain a full appreciation for the city.” 

Huleatt and Mansbach spoke with the mayor, his staff, and the media at the press conference. A summary of the event is available thanks to WKTV NEWSChannel 2.

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