Understanding and Responding to Homelessness in State Transportation Settings

Research Team: Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris (lead) and Jacob Wasserman

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: More than 150,000 people in California experience homelessness every day. In the last decade, homeless counts have risen in many metropolitan areas, despite efforts by and funding from local governments and nonprofits to address the issue. The limited capacity of shelters and social service agencies to meet the needs of a rapidly growing homeless population has forced many individuals experiencing homelessness to look for shelter in various public spaces. Without other options, many turn to public transit settings including freeway rights-of-way, underpasses, rest areas, parking lots, maintenance facilities, state highways, and even local urban streets and sidewalks under the auspices of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). With affordable housing scarce in California and the scale of the homelessness crisis often surpassing the capacities of existing social safety nets, Caltrans is facing these pressing issues and must consider solutions from outside the realm of public transportation to address them, including partnering with outside agencies and not-for-profits. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these problems. Fear of infection in shelters and reduced capacity due to physical distancing requirements are driving more unhoused people onto the streets and into transportation settings.

Project Description: More than 150,000 people in California experience homelessness every day. In the last decade, homeless counts have risen in many metropolitan areas, despite efforts by and funding from local governments and nonprofits to address the issue. The limited capacity of shelters and social service agencies to meet the needs of a rapidly growing homeless population has forced many individuals experiencing homelessness to look for shelter in various public spaces. Without other options, many turn to public transit settings including freeway rights-of-way, underpasses, rest areas, parking lots, maintenance facilities, state highways, and even local urban streets and sidewalks under the auspices of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). With affordable housing scarce in California and the scale of the homelessness crisis often surpassing the capacities of existing social safety nets, Caltrans is facing these pressing issues and must consider solutions from outside the realm of public transportation to address them, including partnering with outside agencies and not-for-profits. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these problems. Fear of infection in shelters and reduced capacity due to physical distancing requirements are driving more unhoused people onto the streets and into transportation settings.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $25,000

Project Partner(s): Caltrans Division of Research, Innovation, and System Information