Mobile phones give researchers a deeper look into living homeless in L.A. County.
“We wanted to create a study on the experience of living homeless in L.A. County, especially in the City of Los Angeles,” says Jennifer L. Davis, a social worker at Calvary Assembly of God and a member of the Homeless Research Institute.
Social workers, law enforcement officers and homeless advocates began assembling data the last month of 2015. Davis, who worked on the project for three years, collected responses from more than 40 participants at one site and nearly 20 participants at another.
“We looked at two main categories, substance use and mental health problems,” says Davis, “and looked at the experiences of people living in shelters, transitional housing, and in other types of places.”
The social workers began to examine the relationships between substance use and mental health and to see how the patterns of use changed over time and between the study sites.
“We wanted to see if we could learn something about substance use in people living in shelters,” Davis says. “We were hoping to learn how the people who are living in these shelters would use their time. And, we have learned a lot about that. In particular, what we’ve learned is that people are using their time in a very dangerous way.”
She says, “We’ve learned that the people who are living in these shelters are living with very high risks for substance use or mental health problems. And it’s because of this that we’re focused on how to help them and help other types of homeless people.
“I think that’s what we’ve learned,” says Davis, “how the experiences of homelessness can affect the use of substances and the quality of life in shelters.”
“Because of this, we’re now trying to find better ways not only to use that money for the services that we can, but to also help people transition out of shelters,” Davis says.
Davis says, “We now have this new understanding of how mental health problems and substance use can increase during shelters, and we’re trying to find better ways on whether we can get people to leave those places. We find that’s very difficult, if not impossible, and we want to find a better way.”
To begin this