Researchers at The Ohio State University undertook a study to evaluate whether the homeless shelter system in Columbus, Ohio is achieving its missions. After interviews with personnel involved in the administration of the system, as well as with those who use the shelters, the authors combined this primary data with geospatial layers to evaluate the geographic dispersal of the shelters and their proximity to other resources with ArcGIS. Much like landfills and nuclear waste depositories, homeless shelters are often accompanied by the NIMBY stigma, and this causes locations to often be in less than desirable or remote locations. The primary goal of the OSU research was to understand who the homeless are, how they became homeless and what resources they are in need of to better their lives.
The Columbus area was chosen as it is a growing metropolitan area. Its population at the time of the study was just over 700,000 in the city, and nearly 1.1 million total residents in the immediate areas surrounding it. In 1986, the Community Shelter Board (CSB) was formed to look at the roles of shelters in their community, and for the establishment of two main types of shelters: emergency and transitional. There were 15 organizations that played a role in the management of the shelter system, ranging from religious to municipal to philanthropic organizations. There were twenty emergency shelters (short-term stay) with 1,137 beds, and then forty-nine transitional shelters (long-term stay) with 1,281 beds.
The first component of their research involved spatially referencing homeless shelters in the greater Columbus area using GIS. Their findings indicated that the transitional shelters tended to be further from downtown, and emergency shelters were closer to downtown. The transitional shelters closest to downtown, however, happened to be the ones with greater capacity of beds. Another interesting finding was the spatial relationship between transitional shelters and Federal Section 8 housing. The furthest away any transitional homeless shelter was from Section 8 housing was 5 miles, and the majority were within less than 2 miles.
Alluding back to the NIMBY mentality referenced earlier, the mean household value was substantially higher in neighborhoods further from transitional shelters. In neighborhoods that had shelters within a shorter radius, the average home values were as much as 25% less than non-shelter neighborhoods. Shelter neighborhoods were also more likely to have industrial or commercial activity in their immediate proximity. Average household incomes were significantly greater the further you move away from a shelter neighborhood.
In future research, the authors hope to determine the types of resources that were available in shelter neighborhoods in order to make sure that they are being allocated properly; as well as if the shelters are making life transitions for the homeless as easy and accessible as possible. Being that the shelters were most often located in areas with the fewest initial residences, the researchers hypothesized that the locations were selected because of the least amount of negative feedback they would receive. Their hope is that crucial resources can be relocated to be more accessible for those in need.