Tam Perry is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Wayne State University. She recently received her PhD in Social Work and Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Her ethnographic research addresses housing transitions of older adults from a network perspective. As health, mobility and kin and peer networks alter, she explores how older adults contemplate their homes and its contents. She studies housing transitions because, while aging in place is often preferred and cost-effective, inevitably some older adults will undertake the emotional and physical labor, as well as the negotiation of medical, financial and long-term care infrastructures, involved in relocation. Her research has been supported by the National Institute on Aging, the John A. Hartford Foundation, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. She plans to begin a new research project in Detroit on relocation in older adulthood funded by the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research as well as conduct a longitudinal study of older adults who participated in her dissertation project funded by a University Research Grant from Wayne State University.
Degrees and Certifications
- Ph.D. (Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Anthropology), University of Michigan
- M.A. in Anthropology, University of Michigan
- M.S.S.W., University of Texas
- B.A., Vanderbilt University
- Theories of aging
- History of social welfare policy for older Americans
- Macro social work
- Qualitative methods/Mixed methods
- Social work in diverse populations/International social work
Areas of Expertise
SUBSTANTIVE AREA EXPERTISE
- Transitions, built environment and aging
- Gerontological social work
- Long-term care issues
Post-Move Follow Up Project
Partnership with St. Aloysius Parish : United Community Housing Coalition
This project was recently approved by the Wayne State University Institutional Review Board and is funded by the Hartford Foundation's ChangeAGEnts Action Award. The results expected will help those working with seniors and senior housing in Detroit plan more effective housing transitions. The project is a research partnership with St. Aloysius Neighborhood Services and United Community Housing Coalition.
The link between housing and health comes to the forefront in times of housing instability and subsequent transition. Considering neighborhood distress and decline in Detroit, it is critical to examine relocation in an urban context, along with its relationship to health and well-being. This project contributes to the understanding of diverse experiences in housing transitions and the development of supportive interventions. Second, this research will enhance our capacity to communicate with policy makers about the impact of redevelopment on seniors. Senior advocates in Detroit have limited data related to these involuntary relocations, and with the expected involuntary displacement of 2000 low-income older adults in Detroit over the next decade, an understanding of the impact of this process early on is an important contribution as we work to revitalize a Detroit for all ages.
Surviving in Detroit: Men Experiencing Homelessness Due to Death of a Parent
The Humanities Center at Wayne State University : Neighborhood Service Organization
In the spirit of the theme “Survival”, we will be engaging with older adult men who experienced homelessness in the city of Detroit after the death of an older relative with whom they were living. Using qualitative methods, we will seek to better understand participants’ experiences of survival on the streets of Detroit, looking specifically at the nature of their intergenerational relationships and other social supports, their interaction with social services, and their ability to locate and utilize basic day-to-day necessities (e.g., food, shelter, hygiene, etc.). This research project will not only shed light on the survival of study participants, but will also ensure that their stories, possibly unique to Detroit’s current context, survive as well.
Through collaboration with the social service agency Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO), participants will also have access to housing and other necessary services whether or not they choose to participate in the research study. In addition, this partnership with NSO will allow us to gain an understanding of our study participants’ interaction with social service agencies, and provide us with an opportunity to recommend strategies for practitioners working in homeless services. Interviews with a number of service providers at NSO will further contribute to our understanding of this unique population of individuals experiencing homelessness in the city.
Office Location5447 Woodward Avenue, Rm 051
SW 7820 Research Methods in Social Work I
SW 9697 Integrative Seminar in Social Work and Anthropology
Grand Challenges Project
Understanding the Role of Caregiver Death in Homelessness
With Justin Petrusak (B.S.W. ‘07, M.S.W. ‘08), a graduate student in social work research and evaluation, and Luke Hassevoort (M.S.W. ‘15), now assistant program manager of Common Ground’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs, Perry has interviewed men in their fifties who seek assistance from NSO’s Homeless Recovery Services (HRS) after losing the parent or parental figure with whom they resided. Petrusak proposed the study, which was funded by The Humanities Center at Wayne State, after observing that older men facing homelessness after a parent’s death are unique from other homeless individuals in key respects. The team also examined how the homeless situations of this group of men could have been ameliorated through an exploration of their caregiver support networks. Perry’s study illustrates the complex ways care networks are part of these men’s lives as well as what “care” has meant for them. Learn more
Global Warming and Older Adults
Perry is raising awareness of the unique challenges facing older adults as a result of global warming. During a presentation of the multilevel impacts of changing environments on older adults as part of a panel that shared the Grand Challenges initiative with the gerontological community at the Gerontological Society of America’s 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans, Perry and Ted Chaperon, a Gerontology Certificate student, described the physiological susceptibility and social vulnerability that result from rising temperatures. Perry and Chaperon recommend promoting older adults’ health through proper eating and exercise in order to maintain health and mobility in case of emergencies, but also suggest the public health community conduct cognitive and affective risk assessments and adopt early warning systems addressing the particular vulnerabilities of older adults. Learn more
A Voice for Flint Residents
For the public health community, an adequate response to the Flint water crisis requires not only the provision of a safe water supply and long-term health care and monitoring, but careful attention to residents’ emotional and psychosocial responses. Because giving residents a role in the public health response is critical to this support, School of Social Work faculty have brought community engagement expertise to The Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP), a multidisciplinary group of institutions and individuals working to identify and reduce exposure to Legionella bacteria in Flint residences and institutions. Perry, a member of the FACHEP team, is studying the unique experiences and responses of older adults in Flint to the water crisis. Challenges that older adults may face, including social isolation, frailty, and high comorbidities, may exacerbate the harmful effects of lead exposure in late life. With DHHS funding, Perry and Jessica Robbins-Ruszkowski of Wayne State’s Institute of Gerontology and Department of Anthropology are conducting a qualitative investigation to understand how older adults perceive and experience the water crisis and how it might affect their aging process. The study will involve interviews with older adults living in the community or in congregate living facilities or served by local agencies about access to resources, caregiving and kin relationships, comorbidities, and how the water crisis has affected their everyday activities, larger decisions and future plans. Learn more