Approaches to Wicked Problems – Deep Dive into Homelessness

A collaboration between the UWA McCusker Centre for Citizenship and the Western Australian Alliance to End Homelessness allows university students to address homelessness through a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach.


The intensive four-week unit focused on enquiry-based learning and active citizenship includes content around the nature of wicked problems, collaboration, design thinking, and homelessness. The Alliance and some of its partner organisations articulated a problem or need that they are currently experiencing and, in collaboration with Unit Coordinator Claire Dodd, these were turned into challenges for the students’ group projects. Projects included shifting community perceptions around homelessness, school engagement, and how local governments can collaborate in their efforts to address homelessness.


An in-depth examination of the topic of homelessness during a deep dive session on 29 January 2020 at Foyer Oxford allowed students to hear from people with lived experience and those working within the homelessness space.

[L-R] Allan Connolly, Lived Experience; Jack Thornton, Shelter WA; Josh Serafini, Lived Experience; Michala McMahon, Ruah

One speaker was Allan Connolly who experienced homelessness with his two daughters after the loss of his wife to terminal cancer. He is now a lived experience advisor to Shelter WA. Another speaker was Josh Serafini who spent more than 25 years cycling in and out of homelessness since he was 15-years-old. Josh is now housed under the Ruah led 50 Lives 50 Homes program.


Hearing these stories along with other insights into homelessness helped students develop a deeper understanding of the problem. Some of the students’ comments about what they learned included “homelessness takes many forms” and “people with lived experience are the strongest advocates”.


Representatives from the sector in this deep dive session were Jack Thornton from Shelter WA a peak body which advocates for social and affordable housing and ending homelessness and Michala McMahon from the 50 Lives 50 Homes program. Other guests who engaged with students during the unit included John Berger (WA Alliance to End Homelessness), Prof Paul Flatau and Ali Mollinger-Sahba (Centre for Social Impact UWA), Shannen Vallesi (UWA Population Health), Kacey Renfrew (Youth Homelessness Advisory Council), John Thomson (Foyer Oxford, Anglicare), Dylan Smith (Fremantle Foundation), Melanie Watkins and Traci Cascioli, St Patrick’s Community Support Centre, Katie Eales (St Pat’s Rack), and Aden Date (producer, ‘Do You Know Me?’).


The students’ projects will result in research and materials that will be used by the relevant organisations, some of which will be available on the Alliance’s website once completed.


Find more information about this course at the McCusker Centre for Citizenship here.

WA Alliance to End Homelessness © 2020 | hello@endhomelessnesswa.com | #EndHomelessnessWA |

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