Homelessness in Santa Cruz: Where Reality and Perception Meet

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The following is a summary of the second phase of a study on Homelessness in Santa Cruz conducted in partnership with faculty from the UCSC Community Studies, Sociology, and Psychology Departments, as well as the Center for Statistical Research. The lead academic researcher for the study was Mary Beth Pudup, of Community Studies. The study was funded through the Social Sciences Division. This is part 3 of a 4 part series previewing the full study. (see part 1 here, and part 2 here)

Over the past two weeks we have reviewed the data collected from two separate surveys regarding homelessness in Santa Cruz. In part 1 we reviewed the survey data collected from the housed population of the city, to ascertain how they perceive the issue of homelessness. Part 2 focused on the survey data collected from 114 individuals experiencing homelessness. This blog post will review the intersection between the 2 surveys, that is where reality and perception align, and where they don’t.

These two sets of survey responses can be compared by looking at the behavioral estimation answers from the first survey of housed residents, which asked respondents to estimate what proportion of homeless population either engage in particular behaviors, or have specific characteristics; and compare them to the response data collected from those experiencing homelessness. For these behavioral estimation questions housed respondents were given the following ranges to choose from for each behavioral/character trait: 0-20%, 21-40%, 41-60%, 61-80, 81-100%. The question was asked “what percentage/proportion of homeless people in Santa Cruz are…”, followed by a list of traits. We did not ask corresponding questions of those experiencing homelessness about every character trait listed in the survey of housed residents in the interest of reducing survey fatigue.

The first series of traits included “Addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.”, “Involved in the criminal justice system”, “Mentally ill”, “Military veterans”. Shown below is a depth chart that details the proportion of respondents who chose each percentage range for each trait.

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Below are the related questions asked in the survey of those experiencing homelessness. The phrasing isn’t exactly the same for some questions, leaving some room for interpretation, but the data alone is interesting.

The second series of questions included the trait “Come from outside Santa Cruz County”, which we attempted to address in multiple dimensions. Shown below is the depth chart for the second series of questions.

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When surveying those experiencing homelessness, we asked multiple questions including “Is Santa Cruz your hometown?”, “How long have you been in Santa Cruz?” (of those that weren’t from Santa Cruz), and “Were you homeless when you arrived in Santa Cruz?” (of those that weren’t from Santa Cruz). For reference, the point in time biannual census uses the question “Where were you last housed?”. Here are the results of our survey:

The final series of behavioral estimation questions included the traits “Make money from panhandling”, and “Are employed”, which we also asked of individual experiencing homelessness. Here is the depth chart showing the responses from the first survey:

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Here are the responses from those experiencing homelessness:

In addition to the behavior estimation questions, we also asked agree/disagree questions related to behavior and characteristics. For instance, 84 percent of housed respondents disagree with the following statement: “Most homeless people are homeless because of a lifestyle choice.” This question is best addressed in the second survey with the question “What do you believe was the most important factor to cause you to become homeless? (Only Choose One)”, shown below.

78 percent of the housed respondents did agree with this statement: “Unaffordable housing and a changing economy are major causes of homelessness.”

We also asked some more general questions of both groups. The results of these questions are featured below, with the housed survey answers being featured first.

Overall, because the answers from both pools of respondents represent a broad spectrum of different perspectives and experiences, the means for constructive comparison is limited. But the exercise proves interesting nonetheless. We will refrain from attributing any of these similarities and differences to any number of factors, and instead, would encourage you to let the data speak for itself.




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