Smart Idea: Seattle Vehicular Residency Research Project

MobilehomelessMobile Homeless, or as Graham Pruss would have us all say:  Vehicular Residency is the fastest growing demographic of people experiencing homelessness. In Seattle, 30% of unsheltered homeless people live in vehicles, and it’s been that way for nearly a decade.

If you think about it, it’s not hard to see why. The economy is still hurting. When someone loses their job, losing their house or apartment is next. If the person has a vehicle, they will live in that vehicle, often holding down low-income jobs or continuing to look for work. They choose their vehicle for several reasons. For one, many first-time ‘vehicle residents” don’t know how to navigate the social services system, or they are scared to stay in a shelter. (not all, but most shelters are horrible). Plus, their car is their last possession and offers some independence.

Other people will see homelessness coming and jump on Craigslist to buy an RV with what little money they have left. Many cities now have turned into a giant RV campground with RVs parked throughout city streets.

Working with people who are living in a vehicle requires different strategies and outreach models. The good is that many are new to homelessness and are often easier to help back into normal society. The bad is, because they are mobile, they are often harder to locate. Normally, outreach teams that are targeting mobile homelessness start early evenings, when vehicle residents have found a safe place to park for the night. I personally find it challenging to knock on some strange RVs door, so I always try and bring a “gift” to help start conversation. Of course, gas cards work great, but bag lunches and hygiene kits will also work.

Seattle’s Social Media Club invited me to speak, and while here, I thought I would get out and meet some new friends. I was lucky, and now greatly honored, that my very first night here Graham Pruss, project coordinator & research fellow at Seattle University, invited me to join him for a little vehicle resident outreach. Being candid, I was blown away that someone is actually researching vehicular residency. I kept asking a gazillion questions trying to learn everything I could in the short time we had. This short video interview with Graham gives some highlights of their research. I personally was very much interested in the six criteria they came up with to help service workers identify vehicle residents. You can learn more about this important work here  and read a report on their latest research here

  • Graham Pruss

    Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your audience! Keep up the great work and let me know if I can ever help!

    here’s a link to our site for more info:

    http://www.seattleu.edu/artsci/communication/Default.aspx?id=105580

  • a2phil

    I knew a woman in Ann Arbor, MI who lived in the back of her station wagon for YEARS after her husband died and she lost the house she lived in for 35+ years. She tried the shelters, but would get assaulted or robbed…:((

    IMHO, the LOWEST thing a homeless person could do is steal from ANOTHER homeless person…

  • Raven

    Bringing what you call a “hygiene kit” is stupid as fuck. It is not useful for a regular person so it is definitely not going to be useful for someone with a car! If they have a car, then they already have these things, a full bottle of shampoo and toothpaste. They will see this little ziploc bag and know you are from some unhelpful “agency” rather then being a human or a helpful agency (who, if handing something out other then food, might be gift cards). Most of that stuff gets thrown away or littered on the ground. What good does a hotel shampoo sample do? Washing one-fifth of my hair one time does not help me in the slightest – I cannot even get rid of a greasy feeling that way! Shampoo can be stolen easily if you’re not a dirty fuck, it can be bought for a dollar which you can afford if you are putting gas in your car using currency, and it can be gotten for free whenever some random person takes you home for an hour or a night or from the places that are intelligent enough to actually hand out shampoo rather then a “hygiene bag” sample-shit.

    I wonder why all the “advice” on “how to help the homeless” or “what homeless people like” always mentions that the “best” thing to do is the least helpful thing, the thing that we will throw away, or the thing we hate and REALLY FUCKING WISH people would stop doing.

    The rest of what you say, minus the hygiene kit, is alright, except for the overall purpose of the blog, which appears to be an attempt to convince people to conduct “surveys” and collect and record information which will harm us by telling police where we sleep so they can harass us some more.

  • Oakenshield

    I do not want ‘ass’-istance from the homeless projects.

    I know where all of the local food banks are, and all of the ‘services’ offered are.

    Plenty of people that may not want to rent a place to live, are happy to live in their vehicles.

    Some people have every single ammenity in their vehicles, plus mechanic skills, plus the ability to move whenever they want.

    You will never own your apartment, and you only rent your home from the bank and city.

    You can always have your mobile dwelling!

  • Raven

    That’s not true the psuedo-government tyranny bullies think they can take your automobile way easier then they think they can take your house. They will never take your house if you own it, if you CHOOSE to rent it from a bank then they can but it is still way less likely then the theft of your automobile. Also if you are referring to your automobile as a “vehicle” then you obviously don’t know much about the subject. If the thing you travel in is a “vehicle” then the government already owns it. And there are not too many people who WANT to live in their car, you’re probably the only one. (RVs yes but only while traveling – if they decide to stay somewhere then the people that purposely lived in their RV or bus will go and get an apartment now.) People that want to live in their tents, yes, but WANT to live in a car, you are likely the only one.

  • Johnnomads

    Not everyone who lives in their vehicle is homeless, i began this lifestyle 29 yrs ago by choice. I worked for the city, was a productive member of society, and lived well, and far more comfortablely than many of my co-workers.

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