Homelessness on the Road: Reviewing Challenges of and Responses to Homelessness in State Transportation Environments

Research Team: Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris (lead), Jacob Wasserman, Hao Ding, and Claire Nelischer

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: In recent decades, homelessness has become an increasingly major challenge in the U.S. Of the half million unhoused people in the U.S., many seek shelter in settings under the auspices of state departments of transportation (DOTs), such as freeways, underpasses, and rest areas. DOTs are responsible for the health and safety of these settings and of their occupants, housed and unhoused. This study synthesizes existing literature and findings from interviews with staff from 13 state DOTs and eight service providers and organizations responding to homelessness. Homelessness represents a recognized and common challenge for DOTs, but the numbers and location of unhoused individuals in state transportation settings vary and fluctuate. As DOTs face jurisdictional, financial,and legal hurdles in responding, DOT staff employ both “push”and “pull” strategies, the most common of which is encampment removals. However, the effectiveness of such removals is limited. Other strategies include “defensive design” and, more proactively, establishing or partnering with low-barrier shelters, providing shelters and sanitation on DOT land, and coordinating rehousing and outreach efforts.

Project Description: To investigate homelessness challenges and strategies in state DOT environments, researchers reviewed the websites of every state DOT, conducted interviews or received responses from staff at 13 DOTs that are responding to homelessness and/or particularly face it, and interviewed staff at eight relevant nonprofits, service providers, and external stakeholder organizations and partners involved in issues of homelessness. In response to their findings from the aforementioned process, as well as a synthesis of existing literature, the team made the following recommendations: 1) acquire better data on the extent and composition of homelessness in DOT settings, 2) create a homelessness coordinating office within the DOT, 3) establish formal partnerships with homeless nonprofits/service providers, and 4) valuate the necessity of encampment removals, through the development and utilization of prioritization criteria.

Status: Completed

Budget: $25,000

Policy Brief(s):

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