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Blackburn, Sarah; Marin, Victoria; Zammiello, Lisa

MC 3360.001 FALL 2015, Wilson

Date: November 15, 2015
Research Topic: Homelessness
Title of Research Work: Societys Impact on Homelessness

Table of Contents

Introduction and Statement of Situation

Research Topic


Literature Review and Secondary Analysis




Research Questions
Research Methodology and Design
Qualitative & Quantitative Research:
A. Observations
B. In-Depth Interviews
C. Quantitative Research
1. C-1: Survey
2. C-2: Social Media Analysis


Limitations of Research


Managerial Implications


Analysis and Results



Introduction and Background

The researchers working on this project are Sarah Blackburn, Lisa Zammiello and
Victoria Marin. We are researching the impact and influence that society has on
homelessness and the various factors that contribute to this. Living near Austin, Texas, a
metropolitan area known for its large homeless population, we are able to witness this
issue being played out in daily life. Homelessness is and has been a growing problem in
the U.S., one that could potentially be minimized or even eradicated with some changes
to our system. The issue of homelessness is important as we face the fact that income
levels are not rising as fast as the cost of living, meaning that more and more individuals
and even families are unable to afford food and housing. The combination of high
unemployment rates, rising cost of living and low-wage jobs worsens the problem of
homelessness, often times forcing individuals to choose between food or housing,
sometimes even losing both. Our research will dig deeper into finding out what specific
factors in society contribute to the incline.


Research Problem and Situation

We will be identifying key factors of how society impacts homelessness. Our objectives
are to show how factors such as background, discrimination, and economic circumstances
play into the incline of homelessness.


Literature Review & Secondary Analysis

We conducted informal research using the research database search engine through the
Texas State University Alkek Library website. The databases utilized were EBSCOhost
and ProQuest. One angle taken on the factors of homelessness was to look at the

background of the persons living without shelter and food. In conducting our research,
we found that factors such as mental and physical health, domestic violence, addiction
disorders and a correlation with veteran status affect homelessness. We also found that
prejudices against homeless people is what continues to hinder progress to help the
problem. Many governmental figures work to suppress the homeless population although
citizens are willing to fight for the homeless population. Another factor that plays a role
in discrimination is media shaping. Many people's outlooks on homelessness are skewed
by the media, therefore the citizens are not aware of the facts and are unable to take
proper action. Several economic factors also impact homelessness, including family of
origin income levels and family situations. In particular, there is a high rate of
homelessness among those who were in foster care at some point during childhood.
Former welfare recipients are also prone to becoming homeless. As government aid
decreases or ends, it becomes harder for families and individuals to maintain a permanent


The topic of homelessness is an important, but broad, subject. There are many facets to
the issue that interact in different ways to make the conversation about it a complicated
one. For our research, we decided to focus on the underlying causes of homelessness as
well as the ways that society impacts homelessness. Our objectives for this research were
to understand the factors that contribute to the risk of an individual becoming homeless,
analyze the way the media portrays homeless people, and consider the interaction
between societys view of homelessness and the way in which society responds to the
epidemic of homelessness.


Research Questions
Our research was guided by questions that we believe are vital to understanding the
epidemic of homelessness and the impact that society has on it.
RQ #1. How does background and economic circumstances affect homelessness?
RQ# 2. What are the perceptions of homeless individuals in the media?
RQ #3. Is there a correlation between the medias portrayal of homelessness and the way
that individuals respond to homelessness?


Research Methodology & Design

A. Type of Research:
Applied research was conducted in order to understand the factors that cause
homelessness and to find if there is a correlation between the way media portray
homelessness and its effect on societys views on homelessness.

Descriptive research was conducted to explain the factors of homelessness and

its portrayal in the media.
B. Method of Research:
Mixed methods were used to perform our research. We conducted both
quantitative and qualitative research to better understand the thoughts of society
and to make observations of our own.
C. Research Technique:
1. Qualitative: One observation at the Southside Community Center, and two
in-depth interviews with Lisa Selgado from the Southside Community Center
and Chadwic Layne from the Hays County Food Bank, both located in San
Marcos, TX.
2. Quantitative: Survey questionnaire composed of 20 questions and a Facebook
profile with digital analysis.
D. Types of Data Collected:
1. Primary: 105 survey responses were collected through Qualtrics, two
interviews conducted and one observation performed in the duration of this
2. Secondary: Nine literature reviews were studied and written (three per
member of group).

VII-A. Qualitative Research: Observations

The topic being researched is homelessness and how society affects homelessness. We
decided on this research method because it would give us some firsthand interaction with

the people we were researching. It made our research more realistic once we were with
the people being affected by homelessness and society.
The theme of our observation was to be a part of the reality that we are trying to learn
about. The topic of homelessness is relevant for everyone. Every person can do
something to help the ones in need. That is why I figured volunteering at the community
center would be the best way to get involved while also learning. I had the opportunity to
serve dinner to the 40-50 homeless people that go through the Southside Community
Center. While serving I was able to talk with the shelter manager to gather insight from
one side of the line. At the same time I was able to interact with the homeless and learn
what it was like on the other side of the line.
The setting was a small kitchen with four tables, enough room to host around 20 people
at a time. From 5-7 pm the homeless came and ate food provided by a local church. They
also had the opportunity to take a timed nine minute shower after dinner. Once they were
done, they were able to take a plate to go and then they left, ensuring that there would be
room for everyone that came through that evening.
Most of the people that came through were single older men. There was one family of
five members with three little girls, none over the age of 8. The women that came through
were typically younger and alone. There was one single mother with a little baby boy that
is almost two. The men tended to keep to themselves, just eating and then leaving. The
family and the women were more social and willing to interact with others. Since most of
the participants are regulars, they have established relationships with certain people. The

people that had relationships with one another almost felt like a family dinner, or
friends meeting up to catch up.
Interacting with the people I am studying really helped me get a better understanding
about the relevance for my research. It tugged at my heart and made me want to get the
message out to help the people I met. Observing humanized my research. It is hard to get
a grasp on what you are researching when it is mainly done through a computer screen. It
is relevant to my PR practice because it shows the importance to get a full understanding
of what you are researching.
VII.B. Qualitative Research: In-Depth Interviews
Interviews were conducted with Chadwic Layne of the Hays County Food Bank and Lisa
Selgado of the Southside Community Center. The following questions were asked in the
in-depth interviewsInterview Questions
How long have you worked with the homeless community?
Why did you decide to work with the homeless?
What is your position/responsibilities/duties?
What in your opinion is the main cause of cause of homelessness?
What stereotypes (true or untrue) do you think affect the homeless community?
How do you think society impacts homelessness?
What changes need to be made to have a positive outcome for the homeless?
Do you see more families or individuals?
Do you have regulars?

What message do you want to get across to society about homelessness?

Laynes responses gave insight on the topic of homelessness in many ways. Layne
suggested that the causes of homelessness is more than what meets the eye. From his
perspective, homelessness occurs for a number of reasons; the situation is two-fold in the
sense that it may come from personal decisions and choices or from unforeseen
circumstances. Layne also suggested that stereotypes of the homeless population hinders
further decreases in the number of individuals on the street; he stated that, The prevalent
assumption is that they did it to themselves. The only effect stereotyping does is create a
disconnect between society and the homeless population. Layne believes that more must
be done to help; it takes more than donating money. Legwork must be put in by volunteers
to create safety nets for those suffering. It turns out that its not only individuals who are
homeless and in need but families with children who are recurring visitors to the food bank.
If the trend continues, there is a highly likely chance that these children growing up
homeless will stay homeless throughout their years.

During the interview with Selgado I learned a lot about how needy most shelters are. Many
homeless shelters are overflowing with people and are under provided for. Lisa stressed the
need for winter supplies and just for donations in general. She believes homeless people are
perceived to be lazy and that people think they deserve to be homeless. In reality it is the
circumstances that some people are dealt that lead to them needing help. It is this
misconstrued perception that leads society to have a negative impact on homelessness.
VII-C. Quantitative Research:

Our survey was aimed at getting a clear picture of our samples perceptions of homeless
people and the factors they believe contribute to homelessness, as well as the ways in
which they respond to homeless people they see in their communities. We were particularly
interested in respondents that live in larger cities, as bigger cities tend to have bigger
homeless populations. Our first three questions, the qualifying questions, asked whether the
respondent lives in a big city, whether their community has a food bank, and whether they
know anyone who is on welfare, respectively. These questions helped us see the difference
between individuals who may not encounter homeless people regularly and those who
likely encounter homeless people often. Our warm up questions were designed to ease
respondents into the survey by asking them questions they could easily answer. We asked
respondents if they have ever volunteered to help with the homeless community and how
often, and then asked them to choose the factors that they believe contribute to the
likelihood of a person becoming homeless. These questions were intended to see how many
respondents have personally interacted with homeless individuals. The next questions are a
series of statements and we asked respondents to identify whether they agree or disagree
with the statement and to what extent. These questions served as a transition in the survey
from easier to questions to more difficult ones as well as a gauge for whether respondents
had a generally negative or empathetic view of homeless individuals. These statements
pertained to various perceptions of homeless people, such as the idea that they are mentally
ill, lazy, or engage in criminal activity. Following this, we asked respondents more
difficult questions about how they think the media portrays homeless people, their own

motivations for helping homeless people and whether they believe the welfare system and
homeless services adequately relieve the problems of homeless and impoverished
individuals. Finally, our survey ended with demographics questions which helped us
analyze the differences, if there were any, between the answers of respondents from
different demographic groups.

Our results displayed some surprising results as well as some results we had anticipated.
We had a total of 105 survey responses and the majority of the survey respondents live in a
big city that has a food bank. Surprisingly, a majority of 58% of respondents also know
someone who depends on welfare personally. So our sample was dominated by the types
of respondents we were most interested in.

According to our results, respondents were most likely to help a homeless person in need if
the person had a physical disability and almost as likely to help if the homeless person was
old. Most respondents said that if they were to give aid to a homeless individual, it would
be motivated by a desire to help rather than simply to do a good deed. Pertaining to
causes of homelessness, most respondents believe the biggest factor is substance abuse,
followed closely by living in poverty. We found that many of our respondents have
personally volunteered with organizations that provide service for homeless individuals.
70% of respondents have volunteered to help the homeless community. Most of those who
have volunteered - 37% - have volunteered 2-3 times.

Most respondents neither agreed nor disagreed that services for homeless individuals are
sufficient, which may signal a lack of knowledge about services that are offered by local
and federal governments and nonprofit groups. When we asked respondents if they believe
the welfare system helps recipients or contributes to the problem of homelessness, 68%
said that welfare can help if recipients use it properly. The second highest result was that
24% of respondents believe that welfare causes recipients to become dependent. Other
options were that welfare does help (3%) and an option for respondents to write in their
own statement. One respondent said that welfare does help, but it does not help enough.

We found that the majority of our respondents were neutral toward the negative stereotypes
of the homeless population that persist in society. 47% of respondents disagreed with the
statement that the majority of homeless individuals are lazy, while 44% neither agreed nor
disagreed with the statement. 50% of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with the
statement that individuals who are homeless and mentally ill engage in criminal activity.
The rest of the respondents were split nearly evenly between agreeing and disagreeing,
with 26% disagreeing and 22% agreeing. Three respondents strongly disagreed with the

The largest demographic group within the sample was white females, with 70% of the total
sample being female and 69% being white. The second largest ethnic group within the
sample was Hispanic or Latino, 28% of the total sample.

Though the sample was somewhat skewed and not representative of the population, the
survey responses did give some insight into societys perception of homeless individuals
and some implications for public relations. It is clear that the public could benefit from
more education about homelessness. Nonprofits and organizations serving the homeless
communities in Austin and San Marcos could be communicating more clearly about the
services they provide. It is also recommended that organizations educate the public on
actual characteristics of the homeless population. This could be done by publicizing
statistics of the homeless community to showcase the diversity within the community, as
well as by sharing the stories of homeless people. It is difficult for negative, narrow
stereotypes to exist in an environment where authentic accounts of homelessness are being
shared often.

Social Media
For the social media component, we created a Facebook page called Word on the Street.
The page was created on October 28, 2015. The page has 52 total likes, the majority of
which occurred through mobile devices on the day the page was created. 70% of the fans of
the page are women and 30% are men. Interestingly, this is also parallel to the
demographics of the survey respondents.

Most of the people reached by posts made on the Facebook page were in central Texas or
other Texas cities, although there were people in Memphis, TN and Auburn, AL that were
reached as well. The top two cities with the most reach were Harlingen, TX and Austin,

TX. There were also some people reached from other countries, including Puerto Rico (6
people), Germany (2 people), the United Kingdom (2 people), and France (1 person),
among others.

The post that had the highest reach and engagement occurred on November 11, Veterans
Day. The post was a photo of red, white and blue lights and it said The U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 49,933 veterans are homeless on
any given night. With better research, hard work and helping hands, we can decrease this
number. Thank you to all the veterans who have made our country a better place, you
deserve more. Happy Veterans Day. The post reached 155 people. This was a good
example of the power of writing posts that relate to a trending topic such as a national
holiday or current event. The post had more involvement than other posts because it
brought the topic of homelessness into the public sphere. On a day when the country is
celebrating the sacrifices of veterans, our post was able to shed light on the widespread
problem of veteran homelessness.

Other posts included quotes from interviews that the research group conducted and requests
for followers to take the survey on homelessness. The quotes posted had the second highest
reach with 36 and 38 people reached. The survey request had a very low reach with only 8
people seeing it the first time and 9 people seeing it the second time it was posted. This
may have been because there had not been much activity on the Facebook page leading up

to those posts. Unfortunately one of the limitations of the research is that the page was not
updated often enough to drum up much engagement.

Limitations of the Research

The research was limited by the little amount of time spent with the homeless. Although we
were able to do research, we were unable to hear the actual stories of the people affected by
the societys outlook on homelessness. It is difficult to compute an actual number when it
comes to gauging something such as a perception. We were also limited when using
Qualtrics; we were not given full use of the websites features, such as cross-tabulation
graphs. Lastly, our survey showed skewed demographics in responses; 70% of the
respondents were female.


Managerial implications
A team would have to make sure to get to know the people better and hearing different
stories instead of trying to use numbers to produce an answer about the research. There
would need to be more time spent with the individuals that you are studying. Management
would need to use stories to supplement the statistics.


Analysis and results

RQ #1. How does background and economic circumstances affect homelessness?
Our research concluded that some background and economic circumstances play a small
roll in homelessness. It is difficult to climb out of poverty when you are young, so if you
come from a poor family than it does increase the likelihood of homelessness. Many

homeless people come from well off families. It is a matter of a person and his/hers
personal choices that ultimately affect homelessness.
RQ# 2. What are the perceptions of homeless individuals in the media?
The media portrays the homeless as people who are lazy and as people who are using the
government rather than helping themselves. Although this is true for some cases, a majority
of homeless people try to get off of welfare and better themselves. The media focuses on
the negative stories. This perception that is being shown through the media to people of the
community. The people of the community then have a skewed image of the homeless
RQ #3. Is there a correlation between the medias portrayal of homelessness and the way
that individuals respond to homelessness?
Our research supports that the media is skewing the image of the homeless population over
all. This results in a lack of apathy from people in the community. This lack of apathy is
what causes people to think they can not do anything to really help the homeless, therefore
they do not try. They believe that the homeless would no longer be homeless on their own
account, so people do not feel like trying to contribute. This is the result of media and
politics creating a negative image for the homeless.