Museum Camp

A project of the
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

Measuring social constructs between homeless and others at the San Lorenzo levee

  • Levee-beauty-1

    The levee, a place of environmental and natural beauty with some development as a recreation area

  • Levee-overlook-1

    It is also a mixed use facility by many groups of people but does not lead to extended interactions

  • 12-00-levee-looker-map_page1_image1

    Noontime data capture: movements and interactions, including questions about the Museum Camper's observations and a woman giving lunches to sleeping bag superheroes out of her red wagon

  • 2-00-levee-looker-map_page1_image1

    2:00 data capture: more movements and interactions, with fewer interactions than at noon

  • Levee-lookers-data-screenshot

    103 interactions, with one positive proxy. Hypothesis seems not to be proven true!

Team Members

Cara Goger, John Connery, Niki Stewart, Anne Marie Gan

What was your hypothesis?

The presence of non-homeless has an immediate, observable negative impact on the use of the levee by homeless
(Note: Homeless here is shorthand for individuals currently experiencing periods of homelessness, and non-homeless is shorthand for individuals not currently experiencing periods of homelessness. The former group is also occasionally referred to as sleeping bag superheroes, with the latter referred to as brick & mortar cowboys.)

What indicator did you measure?

Visible level of comfort/discomfort with non-homeless in the homeless individual(s)’ personal space (when the homeless were primarily stationary, i.e., not in transit)

How did you measure it?

Movement (within 5 minutes) of the homeless when non-homeless entered their space. We documented this both in a formal way (via standardized tracking and notes on our instrument) and in a visual mapping way.

What did you learn?

Our hypothesis (that homeless individuals would be negatively impacted by others in their area) seems false, and our estimates for number of movement incidents were too high. We witnessed a total of one movement that by our indicator/proxy showed discomfort; this was out of 98 documented interactions, of which 78 were “flybys,” or brief periods in which passersby crossed through the space of the homeless individual(s). Even though stereotypes/perceptions (that the levee is a dangerous place for people to go to because of the homeless population) exist that they may not be true. The two groups were able to co-exist throughout daylight hours and twilight without incident and both groups did use the area for its intended purpose (public park, recreational area and path). Movement does not necessarily indicate discomfort (nor does lack of movement indicate comfort); our proxy wasn’t refined enough and may have been too narrowly defined in an attempt at precision without leaving room for other judgment calls by the observers. This resulted in a false positive, in which our one incident of movement by one member of a group of five within the defined time period was likely unrelated to the disc golf players. There was also a false negative during which a homeless individual who had been showing signs of discomfort at a Museum Camper’s observation saw the beginnings of a new group entering (a Frisbee flying towards him) and began to pack up but took almost ten minutes to move. Under our definition, that was counted as a negative but he was clearly uncomfortable from the first interaction and the addition of a new stimulus likely increased his discomfort level to the point of action, albeit slow action.
In addition, the development of the different areas (narrow bike path surrounded by thick foliage vs. wide open green spaces within the park) seemed to have an effect on where homeless individuals decided to hang out; it seemed as though they often were in places that invited neither quick (flyby) interactions nor extended interactions.

Any surprises?

One homeless individual seemed suspicious of and tested our observer even though she was on top of the bridge above where he and his group of three others were camped out. Very few actual homeless individuals were out in our survey area during the day, though we noticed some more entrants towards twilight (which was more in line with expectations and perceptions of the homeless population in the levee). During discussions we expected more people on the less developed side which had trees to obscure, but we witnessed more homeless individuals using the park and not being asked to move by public officials. Overall, some of us were surprised by the camaraderie and empathy shown between members of the homeless community and were able to witness gestures of friendship and caretaking conversations between various individuals and groups.