Thesis

Transience and homelessness in the River District: exploring the magnet myth

Thesis (M.A., Sociology)--California State University, Sacramento, 2016.

This research seeks to explore the complex realities underpinning the ‘magnet myth’ of social services, “the notion that a city’s progressive politics, forgiving nature, and the increasing access to services attracts more homeless to a region” (OMG 2015). Some argue that resources and certain services attract a large number of homeless individuals to metropolitan regions (Tsai et al. 2015). Others suggest that individuals fall into a life of transient homelessness for complex and convoluted reasons (Rahimian, Wolch, and Koegel 1992). This research contributes to this literature on homelessness, through a qualitative study of transient youth in Northern California, traveling by bus stations. 
 Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 32 respondents that self-identified as homeless at a bus depot in Northern California, and who had traveled to the current city within the last 30 days. Open-ended questions explored how individuals made sense of their own transience, their strategies for survival, and the issue of homelessness more broadly. Additional interviews (29) were also collected with community stakeholders, including local residents, business owners and employees, representatives from the Business Improvement District, and social service providers. 
 Findings from the qualitative study shed light on the nuanced reasons that may contribute to transient homelessness around Northern California, particularly with respect to adults who are housing-insecure and traveling by bus. The majority of respondents spoke to the themes of needing a “change of scene/fresh start” (56%) from their previous locations, while others reported that their home city “lacked resources” (44%). A third of respondent also discussed that their transience was a result of a “sudden loss/significant life event,” or that they were moving “in search of job opportunities.” With respect to why transient homeless individuals were traveling to the specific city in which the interviews were conducted, 38 percent reported that they had come “for family,” 28 percent had “plans fall apart,” 22 percent thought there might be “more jobs in the area,” and 19 percent perceived the area to have “more resources for the poor.” When asked about their prior perceptions of the city before they had traveled, the majority of respondents knew little of the city (approximately 60%); while others could discuss both positive and negative aspects. 
 In terms of how community members perceived the homeless in the area, 52 percent believed that this population affects business in one way or another, 41 percent discussed how homelessness has changed over time, 34 percent held either positive or neutral sentiments toward the homeless, 31 percent mentioned negative attitudes toward the homeless, and 28 percent discussed services when prompted about their perceptions of the homeless. When community members were asked about what they believed to be most difficult for the homeless, about half of the respondents mentioned that not having their own place is most difficult (48%), while fewer participants discussed structural issues that limit the homeless in the area (38%). About a quarter of community members mentioned that psychological barriers limit the opportunities of the transient homeless in the area (28%). When community members were asked about what the homeless needed most, a majority of community members mentioned that housing/shelter would be of the most assistance (76%), about half of the respondents discussed services as being the most important in assisting the homeless (48%), and a little less than a quarter of community members discussed various levels of support that they believed would assist the homeless the most (24%).
 Many transient homeless individuals found themselves in the River District area after traveling through the bus depot, with the eco-system of services offered in the area keeping many nearby because of the resources available to the poor. There is consistency between community members in terms of their lack of ownership of the homelessness issue in the River District. Many feel empathetically toward the homeless, but fail to mention how they are personally assisting with this issue. The implications of the findings for policy and service provisions for transient homeless individuals are discussed.

This research seeks to explore the complex realities underpinning the ‘magnet myth’ of social services, “the notion that a city’s progressive politics, forgiving nature, and the increasing access to services attracts more homeless to a region” (OMG 2015). Some argue that resources and certain services attract a large number of homeless individuals to metropolitan regions (Tsai et al. 2015). Others suggest that individuals fall into a life of transient homelessness for complex and convoluted reasons (Rahimian, Wolch, and Koegel 1992). This research contributes to this literature on homelessness, through a qualitative study of transient youth in Northern California, traveling by bus stations. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 32 respondents that self-identified as homeless at a bus depot in Northern California, and who had traveled to the current city within the last 30 days. Open-ended questions explored how individuals made sense of their own transience, their strategies for survival, and the issue of homelessness more broadly. Additional interviews (29) were also collected with community stakeholders, including local residents, business owners and employees, representatives from the Business Improvement District, and social service providers. Findings from the qualitative study shed light on the nuanced reasons that may contribute to transient homelessness around Northern California, particularly with respect to adults who are housing-insecure and traveling by bus. The majority of respondents spoke to the themes of needing a “change of scene/fresh start” (56%) from their previous locations, while others reported that their home city “lacked resources” (44%). A third of respondent also discussed that their transience was a result of a “sudden loss/significant life event,” or that they were moving “in search of job opportunities.” With respect to why transient homeless individuals were traveling to the specific city in which the interviews were conducted, 38 percent reported that they had come “for family,” 28 percent had “plans fall apart,” 22 percent thought there might be “more jobs in the area,” and 19 percent perceived the area to have “more resources for the poor.” When asked about their prior perceptions of the city before they had traveled, the majority of respondents knew little of the city (approximately 60%); while others could discuss both positive and negative aspects. In terms of how community members perceived the homeless in the area, 52 percent believed that this population affects business in one way or another, 41 percent discussed how homelessness has changed over time, 34 percent held either positive or neutral sentiments toward the homeless, 31 percent mentioned negative attitudes toward the homeless, and 28 percent discussed services when prompted about their perceptions of the homeless. When community members were asked about what they believed to be most difficult for the homeless, about half of the respondents mentioned that not having their own place is most difficult (48%), while fewer participants discussed structural issues that limit the homeless in the area (38%). About a quarter of community members mentioned that psychological barriers limit the opportunities of the transient homeless in the area (28%). When community members were asked about what the homeless needed most, a majority of community members mentioned that housing/shelter would be of the most assistance (76%), about half of the respondents discussed services as being the most important in assisting the homeless (48%), and a little less than a quarter of community members discussed various levels of support that they believed would assist the homeless the most (24%). Many transient homeless individuals found themselves in the River District area after traveling through the bus depot, with the eco-system of services offered in the area keeping many nearby because of the resources available to the poor. There is consistency between community members in terms of their lack of ownership of the homelessness issue in the River District. Many feel empathetically toward the homeless, but fail to mention how they are personally assisting with this issue. The implications of the findings for policy and service provisions for transient homeless individuals are discussed.

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