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When people aren’t counted, they can’t get the resources they need to succeed.
Our program is recruiting students to participate in a field study of vehicle residency throughout Seattle; we offer students real-world field research experience as well as up to five credits of independent study in communications or their major. Students and volunteers are trained and assigned teams to perform weekly population size and demographic data collection. This data will be compiled at the end of the study and published with a series of guides for collecting this information. The final advisory report will be provided to Seattle City Council Seattle Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee, Seattle King County’s Coalition on Homelessness (who performs our local yearly count), and other service, government and advocacy organizations to help improve documentation of this unique and hidden population.
Throughout the country more people appear to be living in their vehicles. They are known as “car campers,” “the mobile homeless” or “vehicle residents.” Their presence is a living reminder of prolonged unemployment, high home foreclosures and deficient social safety nets. Today, they can be found in industrial districts, under highways and viaducts, and increasingly on residential streets. Vehicle residents present special challenges to governmental, advocacy, local faith communities and social service agencies eager to find ways to help. People living in their vehicles often have special needs and survival strategies which help explain their use of specific public space and resources. Many vehicle residents view their vehicle as a home and do not define themselves as “homeless.” Many vehicle residents’ use of certain survival strategies, including distancing from the vehicle residence when it is not in active use and camouflaging the vehicle as a residence, impedes accurate population size and demographics data collection.
In addition to field research, Seattle University students will review the history of vehicle residency in the western world, starting from a broad view of the subject in the 1800s and narrowing to the current study areas. Our weekly classes revolve around a discussion of ethnographic and historic texts and videos on “homelessness” and poverty. Students are also offered the opportunity to participate in direct outreach activities with members of the vehicle resident community so they can meet our unsheltered research collaborators and learn from their experiences. Entering its second year, this program's 2012 advisory report helped support the first city budgeting for vehicle resident specific programs - in turn, Seattle's new Safe Parking Program has helped 19 families transition from vehicle residency into transitional and permanent housing. Our published data shows the correlation between restrictive parking ordinance, densities of vehicle residency, and the affects of these densities on local business, residential and homeless communities. Additionally, we are developing standardized data collection methods so service providers, advocates, and local law enforcement may better document or serve the needs vehicle residents.
This invisible world on public streets needs compassionate voices to help tell their story. Join with us to improve how people are counted and documented so they may receive the resources needed to survive and succeed.
For more information, please contact our research lead, Graham Pruss, at:
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