Trust, Social Networks, and Homelessness in Suburban Los Angeles

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Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


At the start of 2014, The United States reportedly had 578,424 people experiencing homelessness. In 2015, there were 44,359 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County alone. This study seeks to understand the function of social networks in the daily lives of people experiencing homelessness in suburban areas with high rates of homelessness. Research was conducted in a suburban city just outside of Los Angeles. It uses primarily ethnographic methods, including field observations and interviews to understand the ways social capital and recovery capital work in the lives of people experiencing homelessness; as well as what kinds of relationships they have with each other and with “support networks”, which are crucial to transitioning out of homelessness, as well as coping with day-to-day life. It is important to note that much of the research focus thus far has been on youths and substance abusers who are already in shelters. With the focus on demographically similar groups, these studies lack the understanding of the interactions between members of these groups. Additionally, research has predominantly been conducted in urban areas, excluding the experience of suburban homelessness. Matching the literature, findings include the cultivation of resourceful relationships which have resulted in access to services, as well as the utilization of social networks to enhance self-esteem. My research also draws attention to a concept I call “trust networks” which are comprised of people with whom trust is implicated and safety of belongings is presumed. While these networks have the potential to relieve certain stressors, they do not reach every person in the community; because of this, there is a constant risk of belongings being stolen, causing a good deal of stress on people experiencing homelessness. Ultimately this study provides an understanding of the social lives of those that experience homelessness in our communities; and the ways in which social networks can aid the alleviation of homelessness as a social problem; but are not necessarily aiding in the transition into housing.


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