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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

John McGah Awarded Eisenhower Fellowship

A UMass Boston Senior Associate will soon take his expertise in studying homelessness in America abroad to Europe. John McGah, of UMB’s Center for Social Policy, was recently named as an International Eisenhower Fellow. This esteemed fellowship will take McGah to a European country for four to eight weeks, at which time he will visit homeless shelters and housing and meet with people who “touch somehow on homelessness,” including people who are homeless, advocates, service providers, scholars, and local and federal government officials.

McGah first became interested in homelessness while a student at Arlington High School. He explained, “I was always interested in this since seeing people living in the street, particularly in high school when I went to Harvard Square. As a junior I started volunteering at the Church of All Nations in Boston, where I met men, women, and children who were homeless. I was struck by how off my assumptions about homeless people were. They are just people. That doesn’t seem profound in retrospect, but like others I separated homeless people in mind somehow.”

This interest carried over into his work as a graduate student. McGah, who studied history and political science as an undergraduate at UMass Amherst, is currently in the master of science in Public Affairs Program at UMB and is working on a project called “Give Us Your Poor.” This project brings public and private sectors together to raise awareness about homelessness through a documentary that focuses on people who have experienced homelessness. McGah, an executive producer of the documentary, described it as “exploring homelessness in the United States and what our response to this problem says about us.”

McGah believes that he was selected as an Eisenhower Fellow because of the work he has done on “Give Us Your Poor” as well as the CSPTech project at UMB. “CSPTech is a project to implement a statewide computer network among homeless shelters in Massachusetts. There’s a great team here that does amazing work,” he elaborated.

The Eisenhower Fellowship program will put McGah in touch with a contact in the country he plans to visit. McGah explained, “This contact lines up meetings for the week, meets with the fellow each day, and acts as a translator where needed.” So far, McGah is looking at Amsterdam and Hungary as possible countries in which to study.

The reason McGah is considering Amsterdam is that its population is roughly the same as Boston’s, around 600,000 people. However, he explained, “Boston last month had a homeless census count of 6,001 whereas Amsterdam has a few hundred homeless people. Their government takes care of a lot of needs like housing and jobs, more than the United States, but I think there might be additional lessons about how a culture views aid to neighbors in need.” He is interested in studying the topic in Hungary because “it might be interesting to see an Eastern Bloc country’s response to homelessness post-Soviet Union.”

Working in a European country will give McGah the chance to explore responses to homelessness by observing what responses seem to be human nature rather than culturally influenced. He explained that if he goes to the Netherlands, he expects attitudes towards homelessness and expectations for the government to assist the homeless to be quite different than they are in the United States. He hopes that what he learns in this area will “help to inform some thinking in the U.S.” and said, “I also assume that many of my assumptions will be wrong and that I’ll learn a lot more than I expect to.”

McGah summed up his plans by stating, “I’m learning more about the Eisenhower Fellowship every time I speak with staff there, and I leave more excited each time.” Following his stay in Europe, McGah will have continued access to a network of people with similar interests through the program since the Eisenhower Fellowship is a life-long appointment.