College of Arts and Sciences
Communication Department


  • What is vehicle residency and why are we studying it?

    There are almost as many reasons for being homeless as there are people experiencing homelessness. People living unsheltered come from all areas of our society, but for many a singular item can be identified as their primary resource and home - their vehicle.  In Seattle, "sleeping overnight in a vehicle" (or vehicle residency) is the largest category of unsheltered people, comprising over 30% consistently since 2001. 

    Yet, people living in vehicles often go underassisted and present special challenges to local government, advocacy, faith communities and social service agencies that are eager to find ways to help.   People living in their vehicles often have specific needs and utilize survival strategies which help explain their use of public space and resources. 

    Vehicle residents often do not define themselves as “homeless”; because of this, many do not access typical "homeless services," such as overnight shelters. Vehicle residents' reluctance to use typical “homeless services" represents a particular obstacle to collecting the population size and demographic data required for federal McKinney-Vento funding, in addition to direct outreach or assistance in service acquisition.

    The use of invisibility and camouflaging strategies often makes work difficult for agencies which report on national statistics for the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHARC), both of which are used to determine national funding for services which address homelessness. 

    Because volunteers and outreach professionals may be unfamiliar with camouflaging strategies and can miss vehicle residencies during their yearly counts, there is a need for an easily trainable system to identify vehicles being used as homes.

    The Seattle Vehicle Residency Research Program develops techniques to gather population size and demographics data so we may add to the current work of homeless documentation and help others understand the lives and needs of vehicle residents.

    Click here for more information on local statistics from the Seattle/King County  Coalition for the Homeless' One Night Count. 

    Click here to visit HUD's Homeless Resource Exchange and learn more information on the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHARC).