Left Outside in Thurston County:
Negotiations for Citizenship and Urban Space
Riley Campbell Student Number: 11800062 Graduate School of Social Sciences
MSc International Development Studies 2021-2022
Supervisor: Dr. Courtney Vegelin Second Reader: Dr. Cody Hochstenbach
Contact: email@example.com June 17th, 2022, Amsterdam
Word Count: 24,356
Washington state has declared a state of emergency due to homelessness. The state capital, located in Thurston County, has one of the highest rates of homelessness per capita in the US.
Despite this, most research and funding on homelessness in Washington has been directed at Seattle, the state’s largest city. Prior research in Thurston County has examined statistical trends of homelessness, rather than valuing lived-experience by those experiencing homelessness.
Meanwhile, academic literature has addressed the ways people experiencing homelessness (PEH) and other marginalized groups can negotiate their urban citizenship and urban space, however literature on homelessness often does not ask PEH their perspectives, which can strip them of their agency. This research addresses these problems by valuing PEH’s experience and learning what strategies they use to negotiate their urban rights. To do so, in-depth interviews were conducted with PEH and professionals working with PEH in Thurston County, and a thematic analysis was used to explore the emerging themes from the data. The results found that PEH were not able to adequately negotiate for their urban citizenship or urban space due to socio-spatial contestations against them. PEH did not perceive that they had a strong role in the community, and they felt excluded due to their negative treatment by housed people, as well as a lack of meaningful government intervention. There are implications of this thesis that Thurston County policy makers and local NGOs should pay special attention to, namely how PEH would like to see the city transformed to be more inclusive for them, as well as the community as a whole.
Keywords: The Right to the City, Urban Citizenship, Urban Space, Homelessness, Social Exclusion, Materiality of Homelessness
I would like to acknowledge several people without whom this research would not have been possible. First, I would to thank my Mom and Aunt Kate for teaching me not to fear people experiencing homelessness. Mom, your strong, generous and thoughtful example has led me where I am today. Thank you for teaching me to always treat others the way I would like to be treated. I would also like to thank my Dad, and Uncle Sascha for teaching me to have a strong work ethic, and to not be a quitter. Mostly, I would like to thank my wonderful grandparents.
Grammie and Grampie, thank you for sheltering me, feeding me, letting me use the car, and for cheering me on throughout this process. It feels like we went through and grew from this experience together, and I am incredibly proud to be your granddaughter. I would also like to thank Eric, my boyfriend, who has been incredibly supportive and patient, you’re great! Finally, I would like to thank my phenomenal supervisor, Dr. Courtney Vegelin, who spent countless hours helping and supporting me, and many others, to achieve our dreams. I am so unbelievably lucky and forever grateful to have had such an encouraging team around me, thank you!
Table of Contents
Abstract ... 2
Acknowledgements ... 3
List of Acronyms and Abbreviations ... 9
List of Tables ... 9
List of Figures ... 9
1 Introduction ... 10
1.1 Research Questions ...11
1.2 Terminology ...11
2 Literature Review... 13
2.1 Socio-Spatial Contestations Against PEH ... 13
2.1.1 Social Exclusion... 13
2.1.2 Criminalization and Displacement ... 13
2.2 The Right to the City ... 14
2.3 The Right to Urban Citizenship ... 15
2.3.1 Belonging ... 15
2.3.2 Political Engagement ... 16
2.3.3 Accessing Resources and Services... 16
2.4 The Right to Urban Space ... 18
2.4.1 Type of Urban Space ... 18
2.4.2 Access to Urban Space ... 19
2.5 The Right to Transform the City ... 20
2.6 Materiality and Non-Human Entities ... 21
2.6.1 Everyday Materiality of Homeless Encampments ... 21
2.6.2 Dogs as Non-Human Entities... 22
3 Theoretical Framework ... 23
3.1 Negotiating Citizenship ... 23
3.2 Negotiating Urban Space ... 24
3.3 Imagining Urban Transformation ... 25
3.4 Non-Human Entities ... 25
3.5 Conceptual Scheme ... 26
4 Context ... 28
4.1 Western Washington Weather... 28
4.2 Washington Culture and Politics ... 29
4.3 City versus County ... 29
4.4 Rent Escalation: The Key Driver of Homelessness ... 30
4.5 The Commodification of Housing in Thurston County ... 30
4.6 Socio-Spatial Contestations in Thurston County ... 31
4.7 Coordinated Entry: A Homeless Response System ... 31
4.8 Who is Experiencing Homelessness in Thurston County? ... 32
4.9 Efforts to Reduce Homelessness in Thurston County... 34
4.10 Community Pushback ... 35
5 Methodology ... 37
5.1 Research Design... 37
5.2 Unit of Analysis and Sample Strategy ... 37
5.3 Data Collection ... 38
5.4 Participants ... 39
5.5 Data Analysis ... 45
5.5.1 Thematic Analysis ... 45
5.6 Quality Indicators... 45
5.6.1 Credibility ... 45
5.6.2 Transferability ... 46
5.6.3 Dependability ... 46
5.6.4 Confirmability ... 46
5.6.5 Authenticity ... 47
5.7 Ethical Considerations ... 47
5.7.1 Invasion of Privacy ... 48
5.7.2 Informed Consent... 48
5.7.3 Deceptive Methods and Participant Harm ... 48
5.7.4 Researcher Safety... 48
5.8 Positionality ... 49
6 Results ... 51
6.1 Empirical Chapter 1: PEH’s Role, Inclusion and Exclusion... 51
6.1.1 PEH’s Role in Thurston County... 51
6.1.2 How and Why PEH Feel Included in the Community ... 52
6.1.4 How and Why PEH Feel Excluded in the Community ... 55
6.1.5 Closing Remarks ... 62
6.2 Empirical Chapter 2: Imagined Transformation for Inclusion ... 63
6.2.1 More Accessible, Comprehensive Services ... 63
6.2.2 Safe Spaces ... 64
6.2.3 Warm Places ... 65
6.2.4 Decriminalization of Homelessness ... 65
6.2.5 System Design ... 66
6.2.6 Closing Remarks ... 66
6.3 Empirical Chapter 3: Non-Human Entities for Negotiating Citizenship and Space68 6.3.1 The Materiality of Citizenship ... 68
6.3.2 The Materiality of Urban Space ... 72
6.3.3 Closing Remarks ... 73
6.4 Empirical Chapter 4: Thurston County Relationships ... 74
6.4.1 PEH’s Relationships with other PEH ... 74
6.4.2 PEH and Local Government ... 76
6.4.3 PEH and Domiciled People ... 76
6.4.4 Closing Remarks ... 77
7 Discussion and Conclusion ... 79
7.1 Discussing Findings in Relation to Existing Literature ... 79
7.1.1 PEH’s Perceptions of Socio-Spatial Contestations Discussed ... 79
7.1.2 PEH’s Negotiation of Urban Citizenship Discussed ... 80
7.1.3 PEH’s Negotiation of Urban Space Discussed ... 81
7.1.4 PEH’s Imagined Urban Transformation Discussed ... 82
7. 1.5 Non-Human Entities Discussed ... 82
7.2 Answering the Research Questions ... 83
7.3 Implications Beyond This Research ... 84
7.4 Limitations ... 84
7.5 Policy Recommendations... 85
7.6 Conclusion ... 85
References ... 86
Appendices ... 94
Appendix A – Operationalization Table ... 94
Appendix B – Interview Script with PEH ... 96
Appendix C – Interview Script with Professionals ... 99
List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
PEH People Experiencing Homelessness VI Vulnerability Index
NIMBY Not in My Backyard
List of Tables
Table 1 Participant Information: PEH……… 41
Table 2 PEH’s Causes of Homelessness………. 42
Table 3 Professional Participants……… 44
List of Figures Figure 1. Washington Weather……… 28
Figure 2. Thurston County……….……. 29
Figure 3. Sarah’s Sign………. 37
Figure 4. Participant Locations………... 38
Figure 5. Homelessness Foregrounds the Capitol Dome……… 49
Figure 6. Relationships Between PEH……… 74
Figure 7. Relationships Within Thurston County………... 77
In the U.S., homelessness has been on the rise since the 1980’s, and as of 2020, roughly 3 million people and families were experiencing homelessness (Herring et al., 2020).
Homelessness refers to a person’s lack of stable, appropriate housing. Having said that, the consequences of experiencing homelessness stretch far beyond having a shelter from the elements (Giannini, 2016). Homelessness is characterized by living in poverty and being insecure with regards to shelter, food, security and privacy (Bassuk et al., 2019). Experiencing homelessness has severe consequences on physical and mental health (Bassuk et al., 2019). It is intersectional in terms of racial and gender differences (Robinson, 2021) and because people experiencing homelessness (PEH) are often subjected to discrimination characterized by social exclusion, social profiling, stigma, and prejudice (Giannini, 2016). These forms of social exclusion revoke PEH’s membership, or citizenship, in communities. Ecologically, PEH are often excluded or displaced from urban space, and are criminalized for existing in public space, making it difficult for them to appropriate space (Herring et al., 2020).
Washington declared a state of emergency over homelessness in 2013, as it has one of the highest rates of homelessness per capita in the U.S. (Washington State Department of
Commerce, 2018). Between 2019 and 2020, there were an additional 1,346 individuals who became homeless in Washington, though this is likely an undercount (Henry et al., 2021).
COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem further (Henry et al., 2021), particularly in the state’s capital, Olympia, a city situated in Thurston County. Olympia has the highest rate of
homelessness per capita in the state, with 15 out of 1000 residents experiencing homelessness (James & Greenstone, 2020). Homelessness is an urban issue, and due to urban sprawl between the cities Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater, homelessness is not confined to Olympia, alone. As such, this thesis aims to understand homelessness at the county level.
The purpose of this thesis is to explore the ways in which PEH are able to claim their urban rights through the Right to the City. Specifically, it will look at how PEH are able to negotiate for their right to urban citizenship and right to urban space. Academically, this is relevant because there is limited research that gives PEH the agency to reflect on their inclusion and exclusion, and how they see themselves within the urban fabric of cities, or in this case, the county. Existing research on homelessness mostly looks at Seattle, the state’s largest city, so there is a gap when it comes to researching Thurston County. Additionally, the research
conducted at the county level is quantitative, and does not value the lived-experience of PEH.
This, along with the literature review, has led me to the following research question, and accompanying sub-questions.
1.1 Research Questions
The overarching research question to this thesis is: How do PEH in Thurston County perceive and negotiate their citizenship and access to space, and to what extent do social and spatial contestations facilitate or hinder their ability to do so?
The first sub-question is: How do PEH perceive their role in Thurston County, and how do PEH feel included or excluded in the community?
The second sub-question is: How would PEH like to see their urban space transformed to be more inclusive for PEH?
The third sub-question is: What non-human entities do PEH use to negotiate for their urban citizenship and space?
The fourth, and final sub-question is: What kinds of relationships do PEH have with other PEH, the local government, and the broader community of housed people?
The next sub-section gives an outline of the terminology used throughout this thesis before the literature review.
I chose to use the term people experiencing homelessness because I did not want to reduce PEH to their housing status. PEH are people first, hence why I have not said “the
homeless” or “homeless people”, though participants and literature sometimes did. Sometimes I also use the term houseless because PEH may not have a house, but the implications of home are far deeper than that of a house.
While there are many different types of homelessness, this thesis primarily focuses on unsheltered, chronic homelessness. To be unsheltered is to live in a place inadequate for human habitation (Giannini, 2016). PEH sleeping on the street, in tents or in vehicles are considered unsheltered. People experiencing chronic homelessness have “experienced homelessness for at least a year…while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability” (2020 Point in Time, 2020).
Additionally, the term domiciled or housed is used to describe the community members who are not experiencing homelessness.
Overall, this section has aimed to provide readers with the terminology to navigate this thesis effectively. The following literature review explores the scholarly work that helped formulate the research questions.
2 Literature Review
This literature review provides justification for the main research question, as well as each of the four sub-questions in part by exploring gaps in previous scholarly work. Each section of the literature review – Socio-Spatial Contestations Against PEH, the Right to the City, and the Materiality of Homelessness – aim to equip the reader with knowledge about the theoretical underpinnings of this thesis.
2.1 Socio-Spatial Contestations Against PEH
This section explores the ways in which PEH are socially and spatially contested in cities, and explains how homelessness encompasses more than lacking shelter (Dwyer et al., 2015;
Giannini, 2016). Social exclusion, criminalization and displacement are explored in the ensuing sections.
2.1.1 Social Exclusion
Scholars argue that homelessness is an intersectional issue that results in social exclusion (Giannini, 2016; Herring et al., 2020). PEH face stigma and prejudice due to widely held beliefs about PEH (Giannini, 2016). Giannini (2016) identified three beliefs that justify and reproduce discrimination against PEH. The first is the “moral deprivation belief”, which sees PEH as
“morally inferior, lazy and dishonest” (Giannini, 2016, p. 10). The second is the “choice belief”, whereby PEH are “blamed for their own misfortune” (Giannini, 2016, p. 10). The third is the
“criminality belief” which assumes PEH are “criminals or potentially serious offenders needing to be repressed and confined” (Giannini, 2016, p. 10). These negative beliefs cause PEH to feel
“deep shame” because homelessness is “hard to hide from others” (Giannini, 2016, p. 10). As a result, PEH are socially excluded, so “homelessness involves much more than an absence of shelter” (Giannini, 2016, p. 11). While Giannini’s (2016) work has explored the social
contestations against PEH, the subsequent section describes how PEH are spatially contested.
2.1.2 Criminalization and Displacement
PEH face other forms of socio-spatial contestations, namely criminalization and displacement. In the 1980’s homelessness increased at unprecedented rates as the US government stopped investing in affordable housing (Talley & Timmer, 1992), and started investing in the prison system (Herring et al., 2020). As a response to homelessness, many US
cities created anti-homeless ordinances, or vagrancy laws, to combat the visibility of
homelessness, and prisons became the new “affordable housing” (Herring et al., 2020, p. 132).
Vagrancy laws target human behavior that is unavoidable, such as sleeping, sitting, or going to the bathroom (Herring et al., 2020). Coincidentally, a condition of homelessness is that PEH do not have private spaces to attend to their basic human needs (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001).
Simultaneously, they are criminalized in public space, even though public space is the only space they can inhabit (Herring et al., 2020; Mitchell, 1997; Snow & Mulcahy, 2001). Herring et al.
(2020) found that police and other government agents enforce vagrancy laws at the request of domiciled people. In 2015 over sixty-one thousand 9111 calls were made to the San Francisco Police Department by domiciled people, which resulted in stricter enforcement of vagrancy laws (Herring et al., 2020). Herring et al. (2020) found that most often, police enforced the laws through “move-along” orders, not arrests, which displace PEH, moving them around the city. In the end, criminalization and displacement are legally legitimized forms of social exclusion that dehumanize PEH (Herring et al., 2020; Mitchell, 1997).
This section has explored socio-spatial contestations against PEH by briefly examining their social exclusion, criminalization and displacement. The socio-spatial contestations PEH face justifies the main research question because they discredit PEH and hinder their agency when it comes to negotiating urban citizenship and urban space. This literature has also led to the partial formulation of the first sub-question: how do PEH perceive their role in the community, and how do PEH feel excluded in Thurston County? It has also led to the partial formation of the fourth sub-question: what kinds of relationships do PEH have with local government, and the broader community of housed people? Since some light has been shed on the socio-spatial contestations PEH face, the next sections will explore literature on the Right to the City (RTTC), which emphasizes marginalized peoples’ urban rights.
2.2 The Right to the City
Lefebvre’s RTTC insists on the rights and inclusion of all urban inhabitants (Harvey, 2012a; Schein, 2012). The RTTC can be seen as a “radical critique of primacy of property rights, commodification of public goods, and limits of formal political citizenship as a basis of
meaningful participation in public life” (Schein, 2012, p. 335). The RTTC demands that
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everyone living in a city, including PEH, has certain rights that should be honored regardless of social status including but not limited to: the right to urban citizenship, the right to urban space, and the right to transform the city (Harvey, 2012a). In this section, the literature about each of these rights under the RTTC will be explored.
2.3 The Right to Urban Citizenship
Urban citizenship can be understood as membership within a city’s community (Smith &
McQuarrie, 2011). Membership goes beyond legally being a citizen, and involves social exclusion that stigmatized groups, including PEH, experience within a community (Smith &
McQuarrie, 2011, p. 4). As such, urban citizenship encompasses a person’s sense of belonging within a community, their political engagement and access to urban resources and services. Each of these aspects are explored in the coming sections (Smith & McQuarrie, 2011).
Harper et al. (2017) argued that a sense of belonging is an essential aspect of citizenship, and established that belonging occurred on three levels: macro, intermediate and micro. While Harper et al.’s (2017) work focused on mentally ill people, the findings are relevant because both mentally ill and homeless populations are socially excluded, and many PEH have mental
illnesses (Bassuk et al., 2019). On the macro level, participants stressed the importance of civic consciousness for a sense of belonging, and will be discussed in the following section, political engagement. (Harper et al., 2017) On the intermediate level, positive interactions with “familiar strangers” such as neighbors, or other city dwellers in public space allowed participants to be perceived as “normal” (Harper et al., 2017). Negative interactions with familiar strangers made participants feel “othered”, causing feelings of anxiety and exclusion (Harper et al., 2017), which PEH also have (Giannini, 2016). On the micro level, participants valued close family ties and friendships, as family and friends represent the most natural community that one can belong to (Harper et al., 2017). In addition, Harper et al. (2017) identified that acts of giving and being recognized were important for participants’ micro sense of belonging. This finding is consistent with Mendoza’s (1997) work in which she studied PEH living in Oregon. She found that PEH shared a communal identity, as they built friendships based on reciprocity and shared the burden of alienation by the broader city population, who excluded them (Mendoza, 1997). Wagner (1993) also studied PEH’s sub-cultures, and found a norm of reciprocity between PEH, which
also indicates that the micro-level of belonging is relevant among PEH (Wagner, 1993b).
Overall, Harper et al. (2017) found that when individuals were engaged at all three levels, and felt respected and included, they had more successful citizenship experiences. Perhaps
engagement at the different levels would result in similarly successful citizenship experiences for PEH. Harper et al. (2017), Mendoza (1997) and Wagner’s (1993b) work contributed to the partial formulation of sub-question one: how do PEH feel included in the community? These authors also contributed to the partial formulation of the fourth sub-question: what kinds of relationships do PEH have with other PEH?
2.3.2 Political Engagement
Another aspect of citizenship is political engagement. As previously mentioned, Harper et al. (2017) theorized that in order to have a successful citizenship experience, participants need to be civically engaged in local and national politics (macro level). Political participation includes voting and staying up to date with current events (Harper et al., 2017). While many domiciled stereotype PEH as incompetent and incapable of engagement or organization, Snow and Mulcahy (2001) and Schein (2001) found that there is protest activity amongst PEH. Snow and Mulcahy (2001) found that PEH engage politically through the “voice” tactic, and use it to combat the socio-spatial contestations they face to collectively demand their rights (p. 162).
Thus, collective action through voice and protest acts as a method to claim citizenship through political engagement (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, Schein, 2012, Mitchell, 1997, Smith &
McQuarrie, 2011). Perhaps if PEH in Thurston County were politically engaged, and felt a sense of belonging on the macro level, they would be able to more effectively negotiate their
2.3.3 Accessing Resources and Services
The right to access resources and services is another piece of urban citizenship within the RTTC because they are essential for survival (Brown & Kristiansen, 2009). Urban resources and services include access to water, food, shelter, healthcare, bathrooms, technology, transportation, and so on (Brown & Kristiansen, 2009). Addorisio et al. (2022) found that 92% of their
participants experiencing homelessness had unmet service needs, and many faced motivational and structural barriers when attempting to access resources and services. The structural barrier most commonly reported was that PEH did not know where to find resources and services
(Addorisio et al., 2022), a finding corroborated by other work (Roberson & Nardi, 2010; Wagner, 1993a). In addition, Addorisio et al. (2022) expressed that service providers often did not
consider what PEH wanted, so service outcomes were not always beneficial because they did not consider PEH’s perspectives. This is a gap that I would like to address by giving PEH the
opportunity to voice what barriers they perceive when it comes to accessing resources and services in Thurston County.
Another structural issue has to do with exclusionary system design. Wagner (1993a) argued that welfare systems, which provide resources and services, often do not cater to PEHs’
needs in an altruistic way. Hence services are not necessarily designed for the population they aim to help. This was in line with Roberson and Nardi’s (2010) work, that found that PEH
simultaneously relied on technology for accessing services (because they are often posted online) while not having consistent access to technology. Even if PEH had access to technology, there are often barriers for PEH when it comes to keeping their devices charged, making services more unreachable (Roberson & Nardi, 2010; Snow & Mulcahy, 2001; Thelin, 2020).
Another common structural barrier Addorisio et al. (2022) found was that PEH were only allowed to use resources and services for a limited time. For example, shelters often have a maximum number of nights PEH can stay (Talley & Timmer, 1992). Interestingly, Talley and Timmer (1992) found that while shelter capacity has grown exponentially in the US, affordable housing has received less funding at the same time, even though a lack of affordable housing is the root cause of homelessness in the US (Talley & Timmer, 1992, p. 13). In fact, the US has historically employed the “treatment first” model, which required chronically homeless
individuals to “be treated for their substance abuse or mental health issues prior to being eligible for permanent housing” (National Academies of Sciences et al., 2018). In recent years, the US has shifted to a “housing first” approach, which aims to put PEH in housing where they can then be treated in a safe environment. However, systemic change is slow, and depends on individual communities to change their approach (National Academies of Sciences et al., 2018).
In the end, these are just a few of the pervasive barriers PEH face when accessing resources and services. Barriers accessing them could hinder PEH’s negotiation of urban citizenship.
2.4 The Right to Urban Space
The right to urban space is another important aspect of the RTTC (Smith & McQuarrie, 2011). Urban space includes “streets, parks and recreation areas, plazas and other publicly owned and managed outdoor spaces, as opposed to the private domain of housing and work” (Tonnelat, 2010, p.1). Public space is “accessible to the public” (Tonnelat, 2010, pg. 1). Space appropriation refers to people’s agency when it comes to taking up urban space, and to do so without
contestation from others (Tonnelat, 2010). There are serious challenges for PEH when it comes to appropriating space. “Homelessness forces individuals to continuously negotiate and survive in spatial domains of a community that were neither designed not intended for residence or basic subsistence practices” (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p. 154). As a result, PEH are relegated to attend to all their needs in public space (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001; von Mahs, 2005). Domiciled citizens then see PEH in public space, which makes them feel uneasy because they perceive
homelessness as a rupture of urban order (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001). Therefore, it is not “the existence of homelessness per say that is troubling”, but it is the visible spread of homelessness into the “spatial domains of the domiciled” (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p 154). In this way, the visibility of homelessness has an effect of the type of urban space PEH use, and prevents their access to certain space. These aspects of urban space – type and access– are discussed in the following sections.
2.4.1 Type of Urban Space
Snow and Mulcahy (2001) argued that not all urban space is valued equally. As such, they argued that PEH face more spatial contestations in prime space, which is highly valued, and least contested in marginal space, which has little use to most urban dwellers. Prime space is “any space used by domiciled citizens for residential, recreational, or navigational purposes” (Snow &
Mulcahy, 2001, p. 157). Examples of prime space include sidewalks, shopping centers, and highways. Conversely, marginal space has “little if any use to most residents… and no
immediate political or symbolic value” (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p. 157). An example could be an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the city. The third type of space is transitional space, which is “neither fully prime nor fully marginal…and sits as a buffer between prime and
marginal space” (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p. 157). Transitional space is typically populated by low-income marginalized groups. Snow and Mulcahy (2001) found that only marginal space is
available for PEH’s space appropriation because domiciled people don’t usually contest PEH’s presence in marginal space (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001).
Snow and Mulcahy (2001) found that PEH use different types of space for different needs. While PEH use marginal space to rest and recuperate, they use prime and transitional space for subsistence activities, such as finding food or making money Now that the types of urban space have been identified, access to urban space will be explored, as well as the tactics used to control PEH’s access (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001).
2.4.2 Access to Urban Space
As discussed, legal ordinances criminalize PEH’s presence in public space (Herring et al., 2020). Mitchell (1997) calls this process the “annihilation of space by law”, a “legal remedy that seeks to cleanse the streets of those left behind by globalization …by erasing the space in which they must live” (p. 305). These laws aim to rid the city of PEH and quell the feeling of unease by making human behavior illegal (Mitchell, 1997). In response to domiciled people’s uneasiness, political agents attempt to strategically control PEH’s space access (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001).
Snow and Mulcahy (2001) identified three strategies of control: containment, displacement, and exclusion.
Containment “seeks to reduce the public visibility of PEH and their interaction with other citizens…by curtailing their mobility and ecological range” (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p. 160).
There are three modes of containment, which are: greater monitoring of PEH, stricter
enforcement of vagrancy ordinances, and the disruption of daily routines and practices (Snow &
Mulcahy, 2001, p. 160). Disruption could include removing portable toilets, padlocking dumpsters or electricity outlets, that PEH rely on (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001).
The displacement strategy of control works to “dislodge and remove PEH from any space used for hanging out, subsistence activities, and/or as home territory” (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001).
Tactics of displacement include demolishing and clearing out homeless encampments (which will be discussed in the Context section), and move-along orders, as previously discussed.
Displacement emphasizes removal, rather than resettlement (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p. 160).
Finally, the exclusion tactic of control “attempts to keep PEH out of designated areas”
(Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p. 160). Examples of this strategy include fences, and the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) movement, which will also be explained in the Context section. These
tactics of control work against PEH, and hinder their access to urban space, however PEH do have modes of resistance.
Snow and Mulcahy (2001) identified four modes of response that PEH use against the control tactics and which can ultimately help PEH claim space: exit, adaptation, persistence, and voice (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001). The first mode, exit, is used when PEH leave a contested space without changing their behavior (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p. 162). The second mode, adaptation, occurs when PEH do not leave a contested space, instead, they modify their behavior (Snow &
Mulcahy, 2001, p. 162). The third mode, persistence, involves the decision by PEH to stay in the contested space and not change their behavior (usually pointless when facing displacement) (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p. 162). Finally, as previously discussed, PEH could use the voice mode of response, whereby PEH collectively express their dissatisfaction (Snow & Mulcahy, 2001, p. 162). Adaptation, persistence and voice tactics all represent ways PEH can negotiate for their urban space. To the best of my knowledge, no existing research asks PEH how they respond to spatial control tactics in Thurston County, so this thesis also aims to fill that gap.
2.5 The Right to Transform the City
For Harvey (2012b) the right to transform the city is “a right to change ourselves by changing the city” (p. 23). The RTTC calls citizens to transform the city with renewed access to urban life, which has become commodified due to globalization under neo-liberal capitalism (Harvey, 2012b). Capitalism relies on cities, and cities compete to attract business. Cities prioritize their image to attract business, removing those who don’t fit in to the urban aesthetic, including PEH (Harvey, 2012b; Mitchell, 1997). Hence, laws that contest PEH’s urban presence becomes legitimized (Mitchell, 1997). Meanwhile, neoliberal private property rights/protections result in the rich getting richer at the expense of the middle and lower classes who are getting poorer (Harvey, 2012b). According to Harvey (2012b), corporations and the wealthy currently create the city in their image, neglecting the urban poor’s image of the city. Harvey (2012b) argued that claiming the RTTC is to take control and power over the urbanization processes that make and remake cities in a fundamental and radical way that is inclusive to all urban dwellers.
Harvey’s (2012b) emphasis on transforming the city has led to the formulation of the third sub- question which asks how PEH would like to see the city transformed to be more inclusive for
them. As such, it would be interesting to understand how PEH imagine Thurston County to be inclusive of their needs.
2.6 Materiality and Non-Human Entities
While urban citizenship and the appropriation of urban space are features of the RTTC, materiality is not. Rather, non-human entities can be understood as a means of claiming
citizenship and appropriating space. This section outlines the theoretical explanation of what non-human entities are, and how PEH can use them to negotiate citizenship and space.
The Actor Network Theory (ANT) states that everything in the social and natural world exists in constantly shifting networks of relationships made up of actants, which are human and non-human entities (Müller, 2015). In this way, non-human entities are considered equally important as humans in creating social situations (Müller, 2015). Authors Pilo’ and Jaffe (2020) took inspiration from the ANT and extended it to study how unequal power relations emerge through the connections and interactions between humans, discourse and non-human entities.
They describe political materiality as a concept developed to understand the connection between urban politics and non-human entities (Pilo’ & Jaffe, 2020). Non-human entities can affect how marginalized people are able negotiate urban citizenship and urban space (Pilo’ & Jaffe, 2020).
The ANT and political materiality act as a departure point to begin to understand the role non- human entities have for citizenship and space negotiations. The following sections specifically explore scholarly work on homeless materiality.
2.6.1 Everyday Materiality of Homeless Encampments
Zimmerman, et al. (2010) observed the everyday materiality PEH used in homeless encampments. They found that PEH “produce or acquire, use and dispose of material culture as they move across a landscape” (Zimmerman et al., 2010). Meanwhile, Mendoza’s (1997) work indirectly explored which non-human entities helped PEH claim space in a temporary legal encampment in an Oregon parking lot. Mendoza (1997) and Zimmerman et al. (2010) identified similar everyday materials related to daily subsistence, to include food, drinks, and mattresses (Mendoza, 1997) (Zimmerman et al., 2010). Mendoza (1997) discussed the importance of tents and vehicles for shelter, which also helped PEH claim space. In addition, both Mendoza (1997) and Zimmerman et al. (2010) found that PEH used structures of permanence, and they
personalized their spaces. Structures of permanence included walls, or firepits (Mendoza, 1997;
Zimmerman et al., 2010). Personalization of space included planting flowers and creating art (Mendoza, 1997; Zimmerman et al., 2010). Ultimately, PEH “constantly strategize to find or make private, safe, functional, comfortable, and supportive places for themselves in a landscape designed to exclude them and transform what some might think of as barren spaces into
meaningful personal spaces” (Zimmerman et al., 2010, p. 449). While the literature does discuss the types of everyday materiality used by PEH, Zimmerman et al.’s (2010) findings were based on observation instead of direct identification by PEH. This thesis aims to allow PEH to identify what non-human entities help them negotiate their urban citizenship and space.
2.6.2 Dogs as Non-Human Entities
Aside from the everyday materiality of homelessness, literature has focused on human- dog relationships. Under the ANT, living things are included as non-human entities, so dogs are considered non-human entities. Dogs provide critical support to PEH, and help them cope with mental health or addiction issues by giving unconditional love, companionship and support (Scanlon et al., 2021). In addition, Gillespie and Lawson (2017) found that when PEH were accompanied by dogs, housed people perceived them more positively by acknowledging them, or giving PEH money for their dogs’ care. Gillespie and Lawson (2017) ultimately argued that when PEH have a dog, they are perceived as being lovable and redeemable, countering negative beliefs housed people hold against PEH (Giannini, 2016). Further, Gillespie and Lawson (2017) found that when accompanied by a dog, PEH’s presence in urban space was less contested.
Conversely, Scanlon et al. (2021) found that when PEH do have dogs, they face more barriers when accessing resources and services. PEH prefer to stay in unsafe conditions rather than part with their dogs. Clearly, there is evidence that PEH use of non-human entities can affect their negotiation of citizenship and urban space, which has led to the formulation of the third sub- question. It asks what non-human entities PEH use to negotiate their urban citizenship and space.
In summary, the literature review has outlined the existing knowledge pertaining to socio- spatial contestations against PEH, the RTTC, the right to urban citizenship, urban space, city transformation and materiality. In the following section, I will explain how I have pieced together a unique theoretical framework using existing literature to answer the overarching research question and sub-questions.
3 Theoretical Framework
With the literature synthesized, the theoretical framework explains how I have used it to answer the research questions. The full operationalization table can be seen in Appendix A.
3.1 Negotiating Citizenship
While much of the existing literature about urban citizenship under the RTTC is about individuals’ right to claim citizenship, the word claim is not appropriate in this context. As discussed, PEH are severely excluded, so it is not reasonable to expect them to be in a position to claim citizenship. For PEH to have a successful citizenship experience, they need to exist
without contestation from domiciled people and government agents. As such, the aim of this thesis is to understand how PEH can negotiate their citizenship. Negotiate is more appropriate because it implies the responsibility for successful citizenship is shared between PEH and domiciled people and government agents. For the purpose of this thesis, the concept negotiating citizenship can be measured along the dimensions derived from the literature: belonging,
political engagement and access to resources and services.
For the dimension, belonging, I have used Harper et al.’s (2017) intermediate level, but have decided not to directly incorporate the micro level. In Harper et al. (2017) the micro level was very important, however, I don’t think it is appropriate to ask PEH about their family relationships. Having said that, I did ask about their relationships with other PEH, which is indirectly related to the micro level. It seems the intermediate level is very important in the context of homelessness, because much of the existing literature indicates that PEH are socially excluded by “familiar strangers”, or domiciled people (Harper et al., 2017, Herring et al. 2020).
As such, this research aims to understand how PEH perceive their relationships with domiciled people, and how those relationships affect their inclusion/exclusion.
For the second dimension, political engagement, I incorporated Harper et al’s (2017) macro level of belonging, political engagement, and Snow and Mulcahy’s (2001) voice tactic.
The literature indicated that PEH engage politically, and collectively engage in protest activity when they perceive their rights are violated. Harper et al.’s (2017) findings suggested that just being aware of local and national politics helped with a sense of inclusion, so even if PEH are not engaging in protest activity, perhaps if they are up to date on current events, they will feel a stronger sense of citizenship.
Finally, the literature about the dimension, accessing resources and services, illuminated the types of challenges that PEH face when accessing these urban rights (Snow and Mulcahy, 2001, Roberson and Nardi, 2010). While I did not ask PEH about any specific resource or service, I do think it is important to understand whether PEH feel that they can access urban resources and services, and what barriers prevent them from doing so in Thurston County.
3.2 Negotiating Urban Space
While much of the existing literature about the RTTC discusses how people can
appropriate urban space, I find the word appropriate inappropriate for the context of this thesis for the same reason I find claiming inappropriate. Since PEH are so spatially excluded, it is unreasonable to expect them to be in a position where they could truly appropriate space. The term navigate is also problematic because it seems to imply that the control tactics against PEH in urban space are, to an extent, justified. In reality, tactics of control in urban space are unjust and take away PEH’s spatial agency. As a result, I will use the word negotiate for urban space, as well. As with citizenship, PEH are not the only group in society responsible for their right to urban space. This means that negotiating urban space is most appropriate. The dimensions of this concept negotiating urban space were derived from the literature, as well. They are: type of urban space, and access to urban space.
The dimension, type of urban space, is based on Snow and Mulcahy’s (2001) finding that PEH use different types of space - prime, marginal or transitional - for different reasons. I feel it is important to understand what kinds of space PEH use with less contestation from the public, or if contestation factors into their space use at all.
The dimension, access to urban space, derived from the literature, too. Since PEH are spatially contested, I thought it was important to understand whether PEH in Thurston County felt that spatial restrictions applied to them, and how they responded to those control tactics.
Snow and Mulcahy (2001) identified the exit, adapt or persist modes of response to spatial contestation, which are important because they represent ways PEH can negotiate for urban space.
3.3 Imagining Urban Transformation
Harvey’s (2012) understanding of the right to transform the city under the RTTC has a revolutionary nature, but for the purpose of this thesis, transformation will take a more imaginary role. Policy and existing literature often failed to ask PEH what measures or strategies they imagined could help them be more included, or help them out of homelessness. One of the main goals of this thesis is to ensure that PEH are given the agency to explore what they believe will make them feel more included by valuing their lived experience. As such, this thesis aims to understand how PEH would like to see the city transformed to be more inclusive.
3.4 Non-Human Entities
Instead of exploring PEH’s networks of actants (Müller, 2015), I aimed to understand what non-human entities PEH identified that aided or hindered their negotiation of urban citizenship and space, as justified by Pilo’ and Jaffe’s (2020) work. Mendoza (1997) and
Zimmerman et al’s (2010) work indicated that PEH do use material goods, though neither did so in the same context as this research, and Zimmerman et al’s (2010) methods were bordering unethical. Non-human entities are also relevant because they include animals. Gillespie and Lawson (2017) indicated that PEH rely on dogs for belonging, an aspect of negotiating
citizenship, and for negotiating urban space. Since the literature indicates that non-human entities can be used to negotiate citizenship and space, non-human entities act as a sub-dimension within each of these concepts (Appendix B and C). For instance, within the concept negotiate urban citizenship an indicator is: what non-human entities make PEH feel more included in the community? (Appendix A). Within the concept negotiate urban space is the indicator: what kinds of non-human entities do PEH use to claim space in Thurston County? (Appendix A).
Overall, non-human entities can be understood as a way or tool for PEH to negotiate citizenship and urban space.
3.5 Conceptual Scheme
The above conceptual scheme provides a visual aid to understand how the theory and literature works together to create a context for answering the research questions. In the center, are PEH’s experiences, because this thesis aims to understand how PEH perceive their rights (to citizenship, space and transformation) within the context of Thurston County. PEH can negotiate for their urban rights, citizenship and urban space, through the use of non-human entities. At the same time, however, there are socio-spatial contestations, which act as barriers to their
citizenship and space negotiations. Meanwhile, because revolutionarily transforming Thurston
County is not feasible, PEH were asked to imagine how they would like to see the County transformed. Imagination then works as a way to negotiate for their urban right to transform the city, or in this case, county. Altogether, this conceptual scheme has synthesized the theoretical framework in a visual way to answer the research questions.
Up to this point, the previous sections have introduced the topic, research questions, and explored existing academic literature to formulate the theoretical framework and conceptual scheme. Now that the theoretical underpinnings of this thesis have been examined, the next section considers the specific context of this research.
To understand the context, and what it means to experience of homelessness in Thurston County several factors have been explored. These include Washington weather, politics and culture, the city versus county, drivers of homelessness, characteristics of PEH in Thurston County, the homeless response, local efforts to reduce homelessness, and finally, the community response to homelessness. Each of these aspects contribute to “thick description”, and the transferability of findings to other contexts, which is further discussed in the Method chapter.
4.1 Western Washington Weather
While weather might seem unrelated to experiences of homelessness, that is not the case in Washington, as there are an average of 167 days of precipitation per year (Climate in Olympia, Washington, 2021). Thurston County is located at the base of the Puget Sound, seen in the white rectangle in Figure 1 (2022 Compare Cities Climate, 2022). It is wet most of the time, so the seriousness of being unsheltered, and exposed to the elements cannot be overstated. Chronically homeless individuals have a life expectancy of about 50 years old, partly due to element
exposure (“Mortality Archives,” 2018).
Figure 1. Map of Washington Precipitation. Adapted from "Average Annual Precipitation in Washington State", by Olympic Peninsula Community Museum, n.d., Copyright University of Washington.
Figure 1. Washington Weather
4.2 Washington Culture and Politics
Although originally inhabited by indigenous tribes, today, 71% of the population of Thurston County is White (Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater Cities PUMA, WA | Data USA, 2019).
Western Washington culture is shaped in large part by nature, and many Pacific Northwesterners are self-described “hippies” (LLC Books, 2010). Washington politics lean toward a more
progressive agenda as it was one of the first states to legalize same sex marriage and recreational cannabis (Washington and Marijuana, 2012; Stein, 2012). Thurston County inhabitants tend to vote for the Democratic Party (Politics & Voting in Thurston County, Washington, 2020). This is relevant because it indicates the political value system, to a certain extent, of Washingtonians, but of course, the state’s population is very diverse.
4.3 City versus County
As explained in the introduction, it makes sense to examine homelessness at the county level rather than city level, but this does not mean that the cities within the County agree on how to deal with homelessness. Olympia is the seat of Thurston County, and bears the brunt of the homeless population (Cole, 2021). Lacey’s government believes that Olympia incentivized
Figure 2. Thurston County, by Google Maps, n.d., Copyright Google
Figure 2. Thurston County
people to become homeless by providing services to PEH and not criminalizing homelessness at a high rate (Cole, 2021). Lacey’s government illustrates the tension between the cities within the county, and illuminates the challenges within local government when it comes to responding to the homeless crisis. By not taking responsibility and meeting the needs of PEH in other cities, more PEH are pushed into the overburdened systems in Olympia (Cole, 2021).
4.4 Rent Escalation: The Key Driver of Homelessness
The key driver of homelessness in Washington is rent escalation, and a lack of affordable housing (Kelleher & Washington State Department of Commerce, 2018). As of 2019,
“Washington’s exceptionally strong economic growth without a matching increase in the
(housing) supply contributed to a 48% rent inflation since 2010” (“Homelessness in Washington State,” 2019). Common misconceptions about the drivers of homelessness are still pervasive, despite having little evidential support. Misconceptions include economic failure,
unemployment, unstable family relationships, and drug use. Another misconception, even held by Lacey’s government, is that people are incentivized by the state to become homeless (Cole, 2021). In the end, the key driver remains rent escalation (Kelleher & Washington State
Department of Commerce, 2018). While this has been made clear on a state level, the next section will look at how rent escalation has played out on the county level.
4.5 The Commodification of Housing in Thurston County
The population of Thurston County has grown nearly 17% in the last 10 years (Bilbao, 2021). As the population has grown, so too have housing prices as land and housing has become commodified (Boone, 2022). Between 2021 and 2022, there was an 18.7% increase in median price for a single-family home, and the market is extremely competitive (Boone, 2022). There is not enough housing for everyone, and many residents are living precariously, one paycheck away from homelessness (Malaba, 2022). Further, those with a criminal background face barriers when renting due to background checks (Barriers to Work: People with Criminal Records, 2018).
While there are new expensive sub-divisions being built every day, there is barely any affordable housing because current laws prevent affordable housing from being built (Malaba, 2022). Many Washington cities’ residential areas “allow only the most expensive type of housing: big,
detached houses on large lots. Everything else is prohibited by law” (Malaba, 2022). As a result, many people are slipping into homelessness (Malaba, 2022).
4.6 Socio-Spatial Contestations in Thurston County
There are many socio-spatial contestations against PEH in Thurston County, though I will just explain a few that are most relevant. Thurston County has legal ordinances against sitting or lying down on streets, sidewalks, or alleyways (Block, 2020). Also, PEH have issues due to parking limitations, where they can lose their vehicle, or be ticketed into debt (Markovich, 2022).
Otherwise, I observed many locks and fences to prevent PEH from accessing power outlets and portable toilets. I also observed that many businesses put keypads on the bathrooms, so a
customer had to request a code to use the restroom. In this way, local businesses could determine who could go to the restroom, and invitation seemed to be appearance based. If someone looked as if they were experiencing homelessness they could be asked to leave (Gates, 2014). Finally, shut off hours are common in Thurston County as most, if not all, parks and public restrooms have hours of operation (Public Restrooms, n.d.). During opening hours, PEH can use these public spaces, but at night, they need to find another place to sleep or spend the night. At the same time, it is illegal for anyone to go to the bathroom outside in public in Thurston County (Gates, 2014). While there are many more contestations that may impact PEHs’ access to space and urban resources, these are some of the most relevant.
4.7 Coordinated Entry: A Homeless Response System
Coordinated Entry is a “process developed to ensure that all people experiencing a housing crisis have fair and equal access and are quickly identified, assessed for, referred, and connected to housing and assistance based on their strengths and needs” (Coordinated Entry HMIS FAQs). Unfortunately, most communities do not have the resources or capacity to
effectively support their homeless population, including Thurston County (James & Greenstone, 2020). Coordinated Entry has a housing first approach and aims to capture a more
comprehensive picture of individuals’ situations. It does so with the Vulnerability Index (VI), whereby PEH are assessed and given a score. The VI score is used to ensure that the most
vulnerable are given priority over others. For instance, a black mentally ill, drug addicted mother engaging in survival sex would have higher priority than a single, mentally stable white man. In
this way, Coordinated Entry and the VI tries to provide services to those who are most
vulnerable. Thurston County uses Coordinated Entry because they have a scarcity of resources for PEH, and unfortunately, waiting lists for housing and supportive services are very long.
4.8 Who is Experiencing Homelessness in Thurston County?
Each year in the US there is a nationwide Point in Time (PIT) Count of PEH that takes place one night a year (2022 US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2022). The aim of the PIT is to get a ball-park figure of how many PEH there are in every community, but there are many methodological flaws. Factors mentioned in the 2022 PIT Preliminary Data Report that may have lowered the total PEH counted were: PEH not consenting to sharing their information, PEH fleeing domestic violence, or PEH who were unaccompanied minors below the age of 13 years old (Benson, 2022). Aside from that, some PEH may not have met the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of homelessness, so were excluded (Benson, 2022).
Other PEH did not provide enough information to be counted in the 2022 PIT (Benson, 2022).
Some PEH may have stayed in local shelters that did not participate in the PIT (Benson, 2022).
In addition, the PIT does not necessarily count those who reside in institutions such as jails, prisons, or mental hospitals who have nowhere to go upon their release (Benson, 2022). Finally, many PEH could have been absent from encampments at the time PIT volunteers entered to count them (Benson, 2022). Overall, the PIT is a starting point when it comes to understanding broad trends homelessness, and is used by policy makers and governments to allocate funding, but likely provides an incomplete picture (Benson, 2022).
The 2022 Thurston County PIT preliminary results have been published, and indicate that there were 766 PEH in Thurston County (Benson, 2022). Of those 766 PEH, 416 were
unsheltered, 294 were sheltered, and 56 were in transitional housing (Benson, 2022). Sheltered homelessness is when a person is able to stay in an (emergency) shelter or temporary housing (Sheltered Homelessness, 2021). Transitional housing is “a form of temporary housing assistance lasting for less than two years” (2019 Thurston County Homeless Census Report, 2019). So far, the 2022 PIT results have not included the amount of people who are chronically homeless, and it is unclear why this information has not been reported in the 2021 or 2022 PIT reports.
Of the 416 PEH characterized as being unsheltered according to the 2022 PIT findings, only 350 individuals participated in a survey to understand their demographics. Sixty-nine
percent were white, 13% were multi-racial, and 4% were Native American. Five percent of PEH were black, despite only making up 1% of the population of Thurston County. Two-hundred- twenty of the 350 surveyed individuals were characterized as single adults, while 128 reported to be “households with children” (Benson, 2022). Aside from that, 19% were minors under the age of 18, and 55% were between the ages of 25 and 48 years old (Benson, 2022). Otherwise, women made up 40%, while men made up 57% of the PEH surveyed (Benson, 2022). On the night of the PIT, 148 PEH surveyed were sleeping outdoors, 90 were sleeping in a vehicle, 34 were temporarily with family for the night, 42 were sleeping in recreational vehicles or boats, 6 were sleeping in abandoned buildings, and 26 were sleeping in a hospital or facility participating in the PIT. Ninety-six percent of those surveyed were originally from Washington state, with 72% originally from Thurston County. Of those surveyed, 233 individuals stayed in Olympia, 25 stayed in Lacey, 56 stayed in Yelm, 1 stayed in Tumwater, 101 stayed somewhere else in the county, or did not respond to the question.
So, how does the 2022 data compare to previous years? The PIT counted 800 PEH in 2019. In 2020, there were 995 PEH counted. In 2021, COVID-19 had exacerbated homelessness in the US (O’Brien et al., 2021), and there were 1145 people counted, 639 of whom were
unsheltered. Finally, in 2022, there were 766 PEH counted. It seems that compared to 2021, there has been a significant decrease in PEH in Thurston County, however the 2022 PIT does not capture the whole picture. Aside from the methodological issues previously discussed, the Thurston County Public Health Department declared a “Code Blue” indicating hazardous weather, as temperatures were below freezing at the time of the 2022 PIT count (Code Blue, 2022). That night, February 24th, I volunteered at one of the temporarily set up emergency cold weather shelters in Olympia created so PEH would not freeze to death outside (Code Blue, 2022). Many PEH I spoke to during this cold spell said they and their friends had gotten hotel rooms, or stayed with friends, which meant they probably were not counted in the PIT 2022.
Aside from the aforementioned limitations, it is likely that the freezing weather contributed to a lower 2022 Thurston County PIT count. Overall, it is unclear how many PEH are in Thurston County, but it is likely more than 766 individuals.
4.9 Efforts to Reduce Homelessness in Thurston County
2018-2022 Thurston County and Olympia Regional Consolidated Plan have identified six strategic goals to reduce homelessness. These goals are to increase affordable housing, economic development for low-income people, public facilities and infrastructure, social services,
homeless continuum of care, and land acquisition. These six strategies act as a framework for pursuing specific activities and have informed County efforts to reduce homelessness. The County has also acquired “multi-family rental properties, homeowner repair programs, and new construction of single-family homes” (Thurston County Regional Consolidated Plan, 2018, p. 7).
There are also job training programs for PEH (Thurston County Regional Consolidated Plan, 2018, p. 7). There has also been an increase in public facility projects to include community centers, and food distribution services (Thurston County Regional Consolidated Plan, 2018, p.
7). Otherwise, Thurston County has employed three unique efforts to reduce homelessness, it has opened tiny house villages, the Mitigation Site and allowed unsanctioned camping.
Thurston County opened several tiny house villages because, as mentioned, building affordable housing is legally challenging due to zoning laws (Malaba, 2022). The tiny houses are repurposed sheds, about 18 square meters, that provide temporary housing to around 50 PEH at a time, and the villages are managed by staff (2019 Thurston County Homeless Census Report, 2019, p. 11).
The Mitigation Site, or “tent city”, is “intended to serve as a temporary, legal camping site that provides a level of order, safety, dignity and cleanliness to reduce human suffering and the impacts of unmanaged camping on the community” (2019 Thurston County Homeless
Census Report, 2019, p. 13). During this research, the Mitigation Site was downtown Olympia in a parking lot, but has since relocated. While initially PEH were open and excited about this offer by the government, the relationship soured over time, as it became clear there was no real plan for them past living in an overcrowded parking lot with constant supervision (James, 2020).
Finally, Thurston County allowed for “unsanctioned camps on public property with public safety conditions and public sanitation” (2019 Thurston County Homeless Census Report, 2019, p. 80). Unsanctioned camps, or encampments, are defined as “open spaces where one or more PEH have set up unsanctioned camping arrangements along with other forms of makeshift sleeping and living areas. These areas are often unsafe and unsanitary” (2019 Thurston County Homeless Census Report, 2019, p. 11) Violations of safety conditions by PEH in encampments
could result in sweeps, or camp clearances, which can have devastating impacts on PEH. Police drive PEH out of encampments, and destroy or dispose of their belongings (James, 2020). The U.S. Court of Appeals found it was unconstitutional to sweep encampments without having somewhere else for PEH to go, and PEH are given notice before encampments are swept, so they can find alternative living situations (James, 2020).
Ultimately, Thurston County has employed unusual methods to try and reduce homelessness in Thurston County, though the emphasis of these efforts has not focused on preventing homelessness at the source, which would require policy shift.
4.10 Community Pushback
The visibility and lack of places for PEH to go has created tense relationships between housed people, PEH, and local government. This is particularly the case for those who live or own businesses downtown Olympia near the Mitigation Site (Spegman, 2018). In the last several years, Olympia’s once artsy downtown has been transformed, with many buildings boarded up (Mercer, 2019). It is not uncommon to see used needles and piles of PEH’s belongings on the sidewalk, or in parks (Mercer, 2019). Away from downtown and in the surrounding areas there are huge encampments, particularly along the highway leading from downtown to Tumwater and Lacey (Argerious, 2022) Not easily accessible, it is just possible to make out tents, tarp walls, shopping carts, other miscellaneous structures, as one drives past (Mercer, 2019). Wherever these encampments are, there is an enormous amount of trash (Mercer, 2019). However, it is important to note that PEH do not typically have regular trash collection services (James, 2021). Over time, Thurston County has been transformed by the sheer volume of PEH and the huge amounts of garbage that litter the streets and forests (Mercer, 2019). As a result, the community of housed people are getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress being made when it comes to the homeless crisis (Spegman, 2018).
The Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) movement has also gotten some traction due to the homeless crisis in recent years (Lekhtman, 2020). NIMBY is a popular slogan that people use in the United States to resist unwanted occupancy in their communities. In this case, it is an anti- homelessness sentiment. Further, unknown persons blew up porta-potties at an encampment in Olympia in 2020 (Block, 2021). Outreach workers described this attack as “a pattern of
harassment towards people living in tent encampments” (Block, 2021). Altogether, the relationships between PEH, the community, and the government are tense.
This context chapter has outlined the relevant factors impacting homelessness in Thurston County in order to give the reader a comprehensive understanding of this research setting. The next chapter will explore how the research was carried out.
This section explains how the research was conducted. There are several sub-sections, namely: research design, unit of analysis and sample strategy, data collection, participant information, data analysis, quality indicators, ethical considerations, and my positionality as a researcher.
5.1 Research Design
The constructivist approach holds that “people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences”
(Pilarska, 2021, p. 62). Constructivism is relevant because it values lived experience, in this case PEH’s experience, when it comes to creating knowledge. This approach has been applied using phenomenological methods. Phenomenology describes how people “experience a certain phenomenon and make meaning out of it” (Manyam & Panjwani, 2019, p. 2). This research is phenomenological because it aims to describe how PEH in Thurston County experience the city/county. This design is appropriate because there are both deductive and inductive elements that work together to produce new knowledge that describes the phenomenon of homelessness.
5.2 Unit of Analysis and Sample Strategy
The unit of analyses were the experiences of PEH in Thurston County, and purposive sampling was used to recruit participants. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was not feasible to contact PEH through local organizations. Not wanting to approach PEH who did not want to engage, I chose to only
approach PEH who held signs. Figure 3. A picture of (participant) Sarah’s sign taken on February 21, 2022 after our interview as she sat on the sidewalk.
Figure 3. Sarah’s Sign
In this way, I could ensure that the people I was approaching were open to contact. Approaching people with signs was also in line with the theoretical framework, as signs are non-human entities. Considering PEH are difficult to reach, I did not limit participant selection along control variables. The limitation of this sampling strategy is that I may not have had a representative sample. Regardless, the sampling was valid considering the research design’s emphasis on lived experience and the methodological inconsistencies of the 2022 PIT. Additionally, snowball sampling was used. For instance, I met Sarah, and she called her friends who agreed to interview with me, too.
5.3 Data Collection
I conducted 16 in-depth interviews with PEH in Thurston County, and five in-depth interviews with professionals working with PEH. The interviews produced rich data (Bryman, 2016), lasting between 20 and 90 minutes. The script for PEH consisted of 28 questions (Appendix B), and the script for professionals consisted of 21 questions (Appendix C). I had informal contact with some participants through text and conversations, but only recorded information during interviews.
I interviewed four professionals using Zoom. The fifth was in-person. I interviewed PEH in various settings, mostly outdoors on the sidewalk. Most denied my offer to take them to a café, because they didn’t want to leave their belongings. I interviewed one over the phone, and three at a fast-food restaurant.
Figure 4. Participants’ Locations