Combating homelessness earns accolade for OUWB professor
An image of Jason Wasserman
The Ascend Foundation of Pontiac awarded the Vanguard Neighborhood Champion Award for Service to Jason Wasserman, Ph.D., professor, Department of Foundational Medical Studies and Department of Pediatrics.

An Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine professor recently was recognized for his work in helping combat homelessness in Oakland County.

The Ascend Foundation of Pontiac awarded the Vanguard Neighborhood Champion Award for Service to Jason Wasserman, Ph.D., professor, Department of Foundational Medical Studies and Department of Pediatrics.

Wasserman received the award at the 5th Annual Pontiac Honors Community Service Awards in May.

More than 500 people were nominated for the two awards that were given at the event.

“(The award) was really, really surprising and unexpected…there’s so many people doing so much good work in Pontiac,” he said.

“I’m really grateful and humbled about receiving this award…I stand in awe of all of the work people are doing.”

Douglas Gould, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Foundational Medical Studies, said that Wasserman’s award reflects OUWB’s emphasis on community service.

“We put a lot of deliberate emphasis on helping the community around us including many people who are disadvantaged and underrepresented groups,” he said. “We talk the talk, and Dr. Wasserman receiving this type of recognition shows that we walk the walk.”

“He’s been an outstanding advocate and leader in homelessness research…and folks here locally.”

“Jason continues to impress me tremendously,” said Duane Mezwa, M.D., Stephan Sharf Dean, OUWB. “To be recognized by these external bodies in identifying our educators as truly special and exemplary brings great pride to OUWB.”

A value-driven life

Wasserman has long been committed to addressing homelessness. He first began working with related issues in 2003.

As an undergraduate student, he created a documentary film that led him to co-teach a visual sociology course with his advisor in graduate school. The film was on the topic of homelessness due to the accessibility of experts in that field within the department.

Wasserman decided to complete his dissertation project on the subject. He published his first book, At Home on the Street, and numerous articles and book chapters on the subject.

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He said that he worked more on the “academic side” of the field until he came to OUWB where he became involved with advocacy.

“We used to take students out to different nonprofits in the area that worked with different populations, just so that they could understand the services and the challenges that those populations faced,” he said. “I wanted to add a homelessness and homeless-serving organization to that list of experiences.”

His search for a homeless shelter in the area led him to HOPE Shelters Pontiac. He was impressed with how different the organization was from many of the others he had criticized in the past due to its accessibility and social justice mentality. Now, he serves on the board of directors for the organization.

Additionally, Wasserman serves as the faculty advisor for Street Medicine Oakland, founded by a group of OUWB students in 2019.

Outside of OUWB, in 2021, Wasserman played a crucial role in the development of the “Blueprint to End Homelessness” with the Oakland County Neighborhood and Housing Development Division, serving on the task force that researched the causes of homelessness in the county and created a list of recommendations to address the issue.

His work in the community is connected to his broader research interest in medical humanities and bioethics. He received his doctorate in Medical Sociology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“I really think about living a life both personally and professionally that’s value-driven. That’s where I spend time working on things I care about that I think have broader social importance,” said Wasserman. “When you commit to those values and practices, you’re naturally led to community service.”

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