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Research Projects

STATUS: Complete YEAR: 2021 TOPIC AREA: Public transit, land use, and urban mobility Transportation planning, policy, and finance CENTER: PSR

Understanding and Responding to Homelessness in State Transportation Settings

Project Summary

Project number: PSR-21-52
Funding source: Caltrans
Contract number: 65A0674
Funding amount: $25,000
Performance period: 11/1/2021 to 9/30/2022

Project description

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. Our findings suggest that DOTs should acquire better data on homelessness on their lands, create a homelessness coordinating office, establish formal partnerships with nonprofits/service providers, and evaluate the necessity of encampment removals, through the development and utilization of prioritization criteria. DOTs should coordinate with other bodies as they work towards broader housing solutions.


Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris
Professor of Urban Planning
Luskin School of Public Affairs
5387, Public AffairsLos Angeles, CA 90095
United States
[email protected]