Guidebook on Streamlining Delivery and Maintenance of Projects Involving Homeless Populations

Focus Area

Project Delivery/Streamlining








2-3 years

Research Idea Scope

State DOTs, like many
other agencies during this economic downturn, have struggled to provide basic
services. At the same time, the housing market has imploded and the number of
returning veterans with mental and psychological disorders has exploded. The
combination of these two events has resulted in a noticeable increase in the
number of homeless individuals and families with few economic resources no
place to go for shelter. In many instances, these individuals and families have
sought refuge in their cars at rest areas, under bridges, in spoils areas, and
in other locations within public right-of-way. Efforts to evict these
individuals and families have sometimes resulted in maintenance crews, local
police, and highway patrol personnel being accosted, and some have become
public relations nightmares for DOTs. DOTs have been sued over the disposal of
the possessions and debris left at homeless camps. As a safety issue, it is the
kind of problem that may be suitable for the Every Day Counts initiative for
accelerating information, once solutions have been developed.


In most cases, DOTs have
been poorly prepared to deal with this increasing problem and only focused on
short-term removal of homeless individuals from the rights-of-way. In other
cases, DOTs have collaborated with homeless services providers, public
agencies, medical professionals, and other non-profit and for-profit entities
in an attempt to address the myriad of problems these individuals have and
deliver long-term solutions. Because many of the affected properties have some
level of Federal funding, and because most of these individuals are low-income,
they are considered “environmental justice” populations and addressed by
Executive Order 12898, entitled Federal Actions to Address Environmental
Justice in Minority Populations and Low Income Populations.


This executive order
requires that all federal agencies “identif[y] and addr[ess], as appropriate,
disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of
its programs, policies and activities on minority populations and low-income
populations.” According to the US DOT’s environmental justice (EJ) website, the
requirements apply to all phases of a transportation facility’s life cycle,
including project development (planning, development, environmental review
under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), preliminary design and final
design engineering), construction (right-of-way and construction), and
maintenance (operation and maintenance).


As very low income
individuals, the homeless population is covered under EJ requirements, but they
are typically overlooked in transportation research and decision-making.  Estimates of the size of the homeless
population in the US range from 633,782 individuals (US Department of Housing
and Urban Development, 2012) to as high as 3.5 million people (National Law
Center on Homelessness, 2007), depending on definitions and methodology.  People without shelter seek refuge wherever
they can. As one of the nation’s largest public land owners in areas with urban
services, transportation agencies find themselves face-to-face with the
challenge of dealing with this complex population every day.  These challenges occur in every phase of a
transportation facility’s life cycle. 


Currently, there is little
research available on homeless populations in the transportation
literature.  That which does exist predominantly
focuses on the transit needs of homeless populations or the impact of homeless
individuals on transit agencies.  In
terms of highway development, construction and maintenance, there are two
individual case studies about how Florida DOT and Washington DOT addressed the
concerns of homeless individuals in two major construction projects, US-301 in
Sarasota, FL (Potier-Brown & Pipkin, 2005) and the Alaskan Way Viaduct and
Seawall Replacement Project in Seattle, WA (Kocher, K. & Kucharsky, M.
2007).  There is one individual case
study about the relocation of a homeless community from a rest area in Oregon
(Tremoulet & Bassett, 2012). A new publication analyzes how transportation
agencies nationally have addressed the maintenance challenge of homeless
encampments on public right-of-way and proposes collaborative strategies to
create long-term solutions (Tremoulet, Bassett and Moe, 2012).


The objective of this
research is to address this gap in knowledge by developing a Guidebook that
provides information on how to incorporate planning for homeless populations in
all three principal phases the life cycle of a highway-related transportation
facility: development, construction and maintenance.  The Guidebook’s aim would be to help
streamline project delivery through providing a systematized framework for
addressing challenges related to homeless populations. For the development
phase, the Community Impact Assessment approach provides a workable framework;
the proposed Guidebook will address the gap in knowledge about how to adapt
this framework to address the complex issues that arise in using it to work
with people lacking permanent homes.  For
example, to reach this population, different methods of outreach and assessment
are required because they may have no permanent address.   The Uniform Relocation Act, an important
resource in addressing adverse impacts on individuals and families, may apply
differently to this population, as they may not qualify as displaced individuals.
The main phase will build upon the existing preliminary national study about
homeless encampments on right-of-way (Tremoulet, Bassett and Moe, 2012).
Products from this research could be disseminated through the Every Day Counts
Initiative of FHWA, as it relates to safety.


The research may include
the following tasks:

1.             Review transportation literature for information about
the intersection of highway development, construction and maintenance and
homeless populations.  Review existing
literature about how other professions have addressed similar challenges
related to the impacts of homeless or transient populations on facility

2.             Work with a panel of transportation experts (e.g., EJ,
civil rights, right-of-way, NEPA, URA) and others to scope the project,
identify potential examples to study, and explore the application, requirements
and limitations of existing transportation regulations and resources as they
relate to this population. Include in the panel potential national allies who
may have an interest in collaborating around the development of best practices,
including those identified by the federal Interagency Task Force on

3.             Develop case studies of successful highway-related
projects involving homeless people. 
Collectively, the case studies should cover all the stages in a
transportation facility’s life cycle (development, construction and

4.             Research non-transportation resources that may be useful
to transportation personnel in working with homeless populations.

5.             Develop preliminary research findings based on case
studies, best practices research, existing regulatory framework and available
transportation and external resources. 
Formulate preliminary principles, approaches and resources relevant to
each phase.  Review with Expert Panel and

6.             Finalize a Guidebook that helps transportation personnel
streamline project delivery (development and construction phases) and ongoing
operations through consistently addressing issues related to homeless

Urgency and Payoff

Recent events highlight a
strong and growing interest in the emerging topic of EJ issues associated with
homeless populations, especially among state Departments of
Transportation.  An online survey of
transportation agency personnel from 24 states conducted by Portland State
University in 2011 found that 76% of the states reported issues with homeless
encampments or individuals on right-of-way. 
Their principal concerns were with the safety of their personnel, motorists,
the public, and the homeless individuals themselves.  This research found that other problems
caused by this population included debris and hazardous materials, damage to
public facilities, short-term displacement of intended uses and users, and potential
community, public, media and governmental relations issues for state DOTs.  However, the research found that few
transportation agencies had examined the problem, developed strategies for
addressing it, or provided training to staff. 


A May 23, 2013, FHWA
webinar entitled Strategies for Addressing the Challenges of Transient
Populations on Transportation Facilities attracted an audience of 141
participants, including personnel from 16 FHWA divisions and 13 state DOTs, as
well as local officials, social service agencies and others interested in
partnering on potential solutions to the challenges.  Approximately one quarter of those
participating in the webinar poll expressed interest in two follow-up
areas:  research and guidance on how to
address impacts of homeless populations on the design and construction of
projects and more information on how to address maintenance issues.


In response to the growing
interest in this emerging topic, the ADD 50 Environmental Justice in
Transportation Committee has elected to submit this research idea.  This committee has also proposed sponsoring a
Cross-Cutting Session on Homeless Populations on Right-of-Way with the
Maintenance and Operations Management Committee at the 2014 Transportation
Research Board Annual Meeting.  

Suggested By

Andree Tremoulet, PhD In behalf of ADD 50 Environmental Justice in Transportation Committee 503-725-4075

[email protected]