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Making the homeless count

Thursday 9 May 2019 12:02pm

Dr Kate Amore (2019)
Dr Kate Amore.

When Dr Kate Amore began researching homelessness for her PhD at the University of Otago, Wellington, the country was in denial that the issue was even a problem, she says.

Now 10 years later, homelessness is firmly on the public agenda, and listed as a government priority, something Dr Amore’s work has played a role in.

For Dr Amore, who receives her PhD at a graduation ceremony in Dunedin on May 11, there is little better than seeing her academic work translate into real world action.

“It’s really amazing that a PhD student can have an impact on policy. It’s really exciting – and it feels useful,” she says.

Dr Amore lives in Auckland and divides her time between working as a medical doctor at the Auckland City Mission and working remotely as an assistant research fellow at He Kainga Oranga: Housing and Health Research Programme at the University’s Department of Public Health.

Her research career began when she felt she needed a break from medical school and took a side step into studying for a Bachelor of Medical Science, a research degree for medical students.

“That’s when I started working with homelessness and I just really loved it so I finished medicine and I worked as a doctor for a while and then I started my PhD during my first year of working.”

Dr Amore’s research has dispelled some of the commonly held misconceptions about homelessness. In her study of severe housing deprivation she found that more than half of homeless adults were working, studying or both. In many cases, the ‘severely housing deprived’ had become invisible, not listed on social housing waiting lists, but crowding into the houses of family or friends, or sleeping in boarding houses, camping grounds, emergency accommodation, or cars.

In the beginning, Dr Amore was one of only a few researchers in New Zealand working on homelessness. Over time more researchers in her group, He Kainga Oranga, have started working in the area, including evaluating new government homelessness programmes. He Kainga Oranga’s other work includes the rental warrant of fitness, housing quality and fuel poverty.

“We have now become an expert team. We work closely with the government and we are making plans for the work that needs to be done in future and how we can improve issues around homelessness.”

Dr Amore’s research for her thesis Everyone Counts: Defining and Measuring Severe Housing Deprivation (Homelessness) was supervised by Department of Public Health Professors Philippa Howden-Chapman and Michael Baker, who she describes as inspirational role models.

Combining her research with caring for the homeless or otherwise vulnerable at the Auckland City Mission has helped her academic work, she says.

“Working in the same area, I know what can be practically done on the ground. I do think it makes me a better researcher, but having the energy for both can be a struggle.”

Her aspiration is to continue to work as a medical doctor and at the University.

“When I was working full time as an academic, I really missed having contact with patients and being able to talk to people about illnesses I could do something about relatively quickly, whereas in research the problems can take years to solve.

“It’s quite hard to get the balance right because clinical medicine is quite demanding and so is research.”

Dr Amore is excited to be graduating in the year that the University celebrates its 150th anniversary.

“It feels like it is a special year for the University.”