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By Jose Garcia, Policy Fellow at the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute

This spring, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute (UCLA LPPI) awarded its inaugural round of applied policy research grants to six teams of Latino scholars around the nation. Funding will enable research to directly inform public policy and support the training of future Latino academics. The research projects cover topics from Latino homelessness to the impact of public art on policy to the relationship between immigration and educational equity.

Health Science Specialist Melissa Chinchilla of Veteran Affairs Greater Los Angeles leads one team along with Deyanira Nevarez Martinez, an assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Michigan State University. Their all-Latina team is examining new methodologies to estimate the homeless population in Los Angeles that can better account for the unique ways in which Latinos often experience homelessness, such as individuals doubling up in homes. The study will also assess how definitions of homelessness and requirements for documentation affect access to housing subsidies.

The “Latino paradox,” a phrase used to describe the phenomena of Latinos having high poverty rates but not showing up at the expected rate within homeless count numbers given their poverty rate, drives their research. The typical explanation is that Latinos are less likely to be identified as unhoused because they are more likely to use their social network and informal support systems to avoid entering formal homeless service systems.

To address this paradox, Chinchilla and Martinez are hoping to create alternative measures for homelessness by examining rates of shared homes due to loss of housing or economic hardship as well as overcrowded housing. These measures can ensure that government programs and services reach Latinos facing housing instability.

“This project will help expand the work around Latino homelessness,” said Chinchilla. “We don’t have a lot of people locally or nationally doing this work, so we’re trying to build a research agenda around Latino homelessness and be present at more policy tables focused on racial and ethnic disparities within unhoused populations.”

However, expanding the scope of research from Latino academics across the country is only one purpose of this funding. The funding from UCLA LPPI also provides a fertile training ground for the next generation of Latino scholars. Each research project has undergraduate or graduate research assistants like Alisson Ramos, a senior at UCLA studying Political Science. She is working alongside Efrén Pérez, a Professor of Political Science and Psychology at UCLA, to analyze the role of solidarity between communities of color in electoral politics.

“Previously, we’ve only measured attitudes, but with this grant, we’re hoping to analyze how the solidarity between people of color can influence political behavior,” said Ramos. “This grant allows me to utilize the research skills I’ve gained to hopefully flesh out this research project into a Ph.D. dissertation and create a pathway to become a professor and support other students like me.”

UCLA LPPI has a clear remit to develop the next generation of academics and leaders and sees the applied policy award grants as an integral investment in our collective future.

“With these grants, we are not only helping to develop the next generation of researchers,” said Sonja Diaz, UCLA LPPI’s founding director. “We are continuing to push the value of applied research as a road to impactful strategies that can drive highly targeted policy and real-time impact that creates increased and sustained opportunity for Latino communities.”

The UCLA Latino Politics & Policy Institute is providing these grants through generous ongoing annual state funding by the California State Legislature to conduct research and develop policy solutions to address inequities that disproportionately impact Latinos and other communities of color.