Homeless management in the US city relies on the street, shelter, and state supported housing programs. Social scientists do not have a clear understanding of how these institutions relate to one another within an internal economy of homeless management and how these relationships shape the survival of the houseless. Further, every city in the United has an insufficient supply of shelter beds and homeless housing units. There is, then, an important empirical puzzle as to how, why, and when, in this context of housing scarcity, certain individuals and groups end up in one institution rather than another. Rather than just view homelessness as an outcome of poverty, this dissertation seeks to explain the role institutions of homeless management play in sorting and stratifying the poor and possibly deepening the poverty of the precariously housed through policy toward the homeless. This dissertation research will integrate several fields of study in sociology, social welfare and public health and help understand the ways in which policy affects marginalized groups.
To answer the empirical puzzle of who gets what and when within a homeless services system, the dissertation will provide a comparative study of the streets, shelters, and permanent supportive housing programs in the city of San Francisco; a city considered a national model for its multi-service shelters and "housing first" approach. The study will adjudicate among three common explanations of institutional entry, restriction, and preference: (a) institutional factors (b) discretionary factors and (c) individual factors that affect their entry, exit, restriction, and circulation between street, shelter, and homeless housing. The dissertation will also assess how residing within one institution or another affects health, work, welfare, criminalization, and social ties. These processes will be studied through a "multi-sided ethnography," working alongside social workers on the streets, shelters, and permanent supportive housing on the one hand, and navigating alongside homeless people through these same spaces. This research contributes to the sociology of the homeless, social welfare, sociology of poverty and has strong broader impacts in its potential contribution to homeless and housing policy.