Primary Menu

Education, Events, Publication

Funding & Recognition

Contextualizing homelessness and air quality in the Salt Lake Valley

Summer 2023

Project Background

Homelessness presents both social and environmental concerns. People living in tents, tarps, and other rudimentary shelters have increased risk of a wide range of physical and mental health concerns, and represent a very visible social justice concern. There is also a widely held notion that people experiencing unsheltered homelessness are a strain on local ecological systems and they are more likely to suffer from environmental disamenities, primarily through higher daily exposure to poor air quality, poor water quality, and weather-related disasters, among others. This research project is an ongoing effort to further understand the lived experiences of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the Salt Lake Valley. In particular, student researchers will support efforts to determine the perceptions and effects of episodic poor air quality associated with wildfire smoke, ozone, vehicle exhaust, dust storms, and seasonal inversions, among others. Research teams will collect on-site, field-based qualitative, quantitative, ecological, and spatial data from with encampments to better understand the environmental justice concerns associated with unsheltered homelessness. These data will be leveraged toward the development of asset maps, network analyses, descriptive modeling, and qualitative themes. Additionally, researchers can expect to develop skills in data collection, data management, analysis, and representation. Ultimately, researchers will help answer the broader question of the ongoing dynamic impacts of climate change on communities that are already highly vulnerable and stigmatized.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST programApplicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Student Role

The student researchers will primarily be tasked with the collection and management of data, particularly through the use of on-site semi-structured interviews with individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the Salt Lake Valley. This collection requires doing fieldwork in determined locations of interest in neighborhoods, industrial, and more natural urban areas where people experiencing unsheltered homelessness may be residing. A key aspect of this process is the establishment of trust in the unsheltered community, and so researchers will need to do this collection frequently and with patience. Along with this data collection, the student researchers will be tasked with the analysis and representation of that data from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. The data collection and analysis will be done in collaboration with and through the direct mentorship of a graduate student with experience in this kind of research. While we want the student researchers to engage with both sides of research (qual/quant), we will work with them to leverage the research skills they are most comfortable with and develop those that they are not. In that vein, the student researchers will work with us to learn more about qualitative and quantitative research methods that are relevant to this project throughout its duration.

Student Learning Outcomes and Benefits

The student researchers will leave this project with a deep understanding of the realities of environmental justice issues facing those experiencing homelessness, as well as the complexities of these injustices intertwined with the current political climate. They will also develop an understanding of what interview collection and qualitative fieldwork look and feel like. The student researchers will also begin the process of establishing their personal research identity and framework through the development of knowledge surrounding critical qualitative research methodologies. Along with a development of research identity, the student researchers will also learn about various quantitative tools that can support social science research and the power/limitations of these tools given a research context. Through this, the student researchers will learn how to work within an interdisciplinary research team due to the academic background of the PI and graduate student involved. This project will ultimately result in an academic paper, which the student researchers will be a cited author on as they will help to write and develop language in the initial writing process and throughout the editing process. For this, the student will learn to research the existing literature on our project focus and how to leverage existing research to support the proposed research project.

Jeff Rose

Assistant Professor
Health & Kinesiology

To start the research process, we will meet with the student researchers to understand what their career goals are and what they are hoping to take away from this experience. We will work with the student researchers to meet multiple times each week to discuss where we are at in the research project and make any necessary changes to our strategy moving forward in the project. Effort will be made to establish a community within the research team so that the student researchers feel supported in suggesting methods and practicing reflexive research. These meetings will provide a chance to debrief to assess student well-being, especially during the data collection stage given the emotional difficulty of the interview process. Debriefing will also allow us to assess where our mentorship is furthering the student researchers' success and where we can add more support. As mentioned above, the researchers will also be provided real-time mentoring in the field for data collection. While the student researchers will primarily perform the research duties described above, we believe the learning and mentoring experience must go beyond the immediacy of the project. Throughout the project, the student researchers will learn about general qualitative and quantitative research methods and engage in dialogue with us on these topics. Team members will also advocate for the student to extend their research further through opportunities for research presentation, including in the outcome of writing project results in the form of an academic paper.


To learn more about HAPPIEST, please visit here!