Transportation and Homelessness

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that over half a million Americans are living without housing. This national crisis contributes to everyday transportation challenges that are compounded and made more difficult when that person does not have access to a home. TREC partners with the Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative (HRAC), which seeks to address the challenges of homelessness through research that uncovers conditions which lead to, and perpetuate, homelessness. Together, TREC and HRAC are starting to tackle some of the questions that lie at the intersection of transportation and homelessness.

Marginalized Populations’ Access to Transit: Journeys from Home and Work to Transit (Active Project)

Research demonstrates that marginalized populations experience significant barriers in accessing transit. Much research related to marginalized populations focuses on fares, costs, and locations. More recent studies look at how transgender and gender-nonconforming community members experience discrimination and harassment while riding transit, and how that impacts their choices to access transit. In this study researchers build on findings from these studies on harassment on mass transit for a specific population, and seek to understand how people from selected historically marginalized communities experience discrimination and harassment on transit and in public areas such as sidewalks, bus stops, and transit platforms when accessing transit. The study is being conducted in two sites: Portland, Oregon and Salt Lake City, Utah. In Portland, the study population will include racially and ethnically diverse people experiencing homelessness and people who identify as transgender and gender nonconforming. In Salt Lake City, the study population will include people experiencing homelessness as well as diverse groups based on their gender, racial, and ethnic identity.

Learn more about Marginalized Populations’ Access to Transit: Journeys from Home and Work to Transit (this is an active project).

Homelessness: A Guide for Public Transportation (Active Project)

Public transportation systems are faced with significant increases in the number of people experiencing homelessness, including people using public transportation services and facilities as shelters. Transit agencies are looking for best practices– ways to address the issue, both in internal operations but also through partnerships. The project is a combination of a literature review, survey scan, and case study development to elevate some of those lessons learned to a national dialogue. The objective of this research is to develop a guide for public transportation agencies and concerned stakeholders on effective approaches and best practices that are responsive to those who are experiencing homelessness.

Learn more about TCRP J-11/Task 40: Homelessness: A Guide for Public Transportation (this is an active project).

Do Travel Costs Matter? Effects of a Low-Income Transit Fare Program on Low-Income Riders (Active Project)

Access to transit can deliver a host of benefits to the riders and to the region. Little is known about how low-income riders react to, and benefit from, the removal of transit cost barriers. A recent change in TriMet’s Honored Citizens Program provides a rare opportunity to do a quasi-experimental study on these questions. Between September 2019 and November 2020, in collaboration with TriMet, the research team surveyed 200 and interviewed 10 low-income riders who are newly enrolled in the Honored Citizens Program. This study intends to assess how enrollment in the program impacts sense of community, homelessness, access to educational and employment opportunities, and physical and mental well-being, among those at risk of becoming homeless (e.g., low-income individuals) over time, as well as those who already experience homelessness.

Learn more about Do Travel Costs Matter? Using Psychological And Social Equity Perspectives To Evaluate The Effects Of A Low-income Transit Fare Program On Low-income Riders (this is an active project).

Strategies to Address Homelessness at Airports (Active Project)

There has been an increase in the number of homeless individuals at airports in recent years. There are many reasons for this increase, including a reduced number of city shelters and the attractiveness of airports for people experiencing homelessness due to their relative safety, transit accessibility, climate controlled shelter, and access to food and amenities. Responses to homeless people at airports have varied. Many airports wrestle with how to balance their primary function—serving the traveling public—with dealing respectfully with people experiencing homelessness. In addition, those experiencing homeslessnes may have physical and mental challenges and may add potential safety and security issues for airports. Research is needed to help airports partner with local community-based resources for developing and implementing strategies to address homelessness at airport facilities. The objective of this research is to develop a primer and guidebook to help airport operators understand and respond to homeless people at their facility.

Learn more about ACRP 03-59: Strategies to Address Homelessness at Airports (this is an active project).

Addressing Homeless Encampments on Public Rights-of-Way (2013)

As owners of some of the largest stretches of public land, state departments of transportation (DOTs) may need to involve themselves with the relocation of homeless encampments. This is a wide-scale problem which requires a multidisciplinary approach. Researchers created a best practices guide to help Oregon DOT approach this issue, by closely studying the 2010 Baldock Rest Area Relocation effort. The guide offers practical information for professionals, including Federal Highway Administration officials, Oregon public works directors, transportation educators and students. The Baldock Relocation involved 37 homeless households and was affected by a collaboration among several community organizations. Because of its size and scale, this relocation effort offered researchers a unique opportunity to study the process and its effects. The most important lesson from the Baldock case study is that the project was successful largely due to collaboration, with no single agency handling the entire process. The Baldock Restoration Group’s approach was to use a “push-pull” method, combining the “push” force of law enforcement with the “pull” of opportunities for assistance. In addition to the Best Practices Guide, this research provides a detailed case study of one of the largest relocation efforts in Oregon. This information stands to give DOTs an informed and prepared way to approach similar situations in the future.

Learn more about Relocation of Homeless People from ODOT Rights-of-Way and a followup technology transfer effort, Addressing Homeless Encampments on Public Right-of-Way: A Knowledge Transfer Project.

The People

Our primary partner in this work is a newer initiative at PSU: Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative (HRAC). Launched to address the challenges of homelessness through research, this center uncovers conditions that lead to and perpetuate homelessness. HRAC's goal is to help reduce homelessness and its negative impacts on individuals, families and communities, with an emphasis on communities of color.

Meet some of the experts behind many of the projects listed above:

  • Miriam Abelson, Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Portland State University
  • Aaron Golub, Director and Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University
  • Amy Lubitow, Associate Professor of Sociology, Portland State University
  • John MacArthur, Sustainable Transportation Program Manager, Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University
  • Andrée Tremoulet, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Urban Studies & Planning, Portland State University
  • Liming Wang, Associate Professor of Urban Studies & Planning, Portland State University
  • Liu-Qin Yang, Associate Professor of Psychology, Portland State University
  • Marisa Zapata, Director of PSU's Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative; Associate Professor of Land-Use Planning, Portland State University