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1988-89 Exploratory Research on Enumerating Homeless Individuals in Baltimore and Washington

Matt T. Salo
Component ID: #ti665711601


This study reports the findings of ethnographic research among a variety of homeless people in two cities. The research focused on individual handicaps, daily problems, environmental constraints and patterns of coping behaviors. The goal was to isolate natural groups with shared or similar behavior patterns, the knowledge of which could be used to plan strategies for enumerating them in the decennial census. 

The study involved visual surveys from a car and exploratory reconnaissance by foot throughout the study areas, to locate shelters, service centers, transportation routes, hangouts, hideouts, resting places, and other sites used by the homeless. These surveys provided background data for understanding the social milieus to which homeless people must adapt. 

Personal interviews with a variety of homeless individuals were conducted to learn how they perceived their environments and what kinds of decisions they made that might bear on their movements related to enumeration efforts. Interviews with institutional staff who had frequent and continuing contact with homeless people provided a useful supplement to information provided by the homeless informants. 

The author finds an extremely diverse population, with an equally varied range of coping strategies. He calls for additional research to identify the most elusive subpopulations and the best strategies for enumerating them. He concludes that future censuses and surveys will require a clear definition and screening of those to be included in the study, some idea of the natural subgroups of the homeless universe, a description of the behavior patters exhibited by those groups, and an attempt to tailor enumeration and interview methods to their local situations.

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