Social Networks, Time Homeless, and Social Support

A Study of Men on Skid Row

Published in: Network Science, v. 1, no. 3, Dec. 2013, p. 305-320

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2013

by Harold D. Green, Joan S. Tucker, Daniela Golinelli, Suzanne L. Wenzel

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Research Questions

  1. What are the social networks of homeless men like?
  2. Do those social networks differ depending on whether the men are chronically or intermittently homeless?

Homeless men are frequently unsheltered and isolated, disconnected from supportive organizations and individuals. However, little research has investigated these men's social networks. We investigate the structure and composition of homeless men's social networks, vis-a-vis short- and long-term homelessness with a sample of men drawn randomly from meal lines on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Men continuously homeless for the past six months display networks composed of riskier members when compared to men intermittently homeless during that time. Men who report chronic, long-term homelessness display greater social network fragmentation when compared to non-chronically homeless men. While intermittent homelessness affects network composition in ways that may be addressable with existing interventions, chronic homelessness fragments networks, which may be more difficult to address with those interventions. These findings have implications for access to social support from network members which, in turn, impacts the resources homeless men require from other sources such as the government or non-governmental organizations.

Key Findings

  • Chronically homeless men have fragmented and risky social networks that existing interventions probably cannot affect.
  • For these men, health care, food security, and housing should be addressed first, with social support addressed afterward.

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