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Title: Seeking Refuge in a Global Pandemic: Understanding Emergency Homeless Shelter Needs during Public Health Crises
Authors: Reya, Remy
Advisors: Shorris, Anthony
Department: Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Certificate Program: Program in Values and Public Life
Class Year: 2021
Abstract: As homelessness has emerged as a major political and social issue in the 21st century, California has spent billions of dollars on homeless services and housing only to see a growth in the number of people living outside. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 provided a shock to the trajectory of homeless service provision. An urgent need emerged for specialized shelter services that allowed people experiencing homelessness to adhere to stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines meant to curb viral spread. Over the course of a year, San Diego designed and implemented two emergency shelter programs: a mass congregate shelter program hosted in the San Diego Convention Center, and a noncongregate shelter program, which gave clients their own rooms in hotels and motels across the county. This thesis seeks to discern an answer to the question: Should the federal government incentivize state use of federal emergency funds for noncongregate shelter options over congregate shelter options in public health crises? In pursuit of a robust answer, I conduct a multidimensional analysis of congregate and noncongregate shelter options, adopting a comparative case analysis framework to evaluate the congregate shelter in the San Diego Convention Center and a noncongregate motel-shelter program operated elsewhere in San Diego. After tracing recent developments in emergency shelter services in San Diego, I evaluate normative literature to evaluate how shelters might restore assurances of privacy and security that are eroded by the state of homelessness. I present views of shelter clients on the quality of different shelter programs, including their evaluations of privacy, security, and freedom. Lastly, I perform an analysis of the fiscal and logistical challenges associated with emergency shelters; and an analysis of political pressures surrounding emergency shelter provision in San Diego. I find good normative reasons for investing in noncongregate shelter options for people experiencing homelessness, nuanced by interviews with shelter clients, who report low levels of privacy and security in congregate settings and feelings of isolation in noncongregate settings. Although noncongregate shelters have higher per-client costs than congregate shelters in several key aspects, congregate shelters feature unique logistical challenges; moreover, long-term client outcomes may offset the near-term cost differential. Finally, while many community stakeholders are receptive to both types of shelter during public health crises, advocates suggest that noncongregate shelters can help cities successfully engage more unsheltered people. In light of these findings, I recommend that the federal government incentivize state use of federal emergency funds for noncongregate shelter options, though not at the expense of congregate shelter options. I also offer four supplementary policy proposals based on my findings, endorsing (1) development of noncongregate shelter options as part of the general emergency shelter framework outside of the scope of public health crises; (2) investment in training, hiring, and retaining competent case managers; (3) exploration of mechanisms for community-building and personal accountability in noncongregate shelters; and (4) attempts to increase client privacy and security in congregate shelters.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2021

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