Homelessness Survival Strategies Lab


The Homelessness Survival Strategies (HSS) lab seeks to better understand how and why individuals experiencing homelessness access resources, as well as the survival strategies they employ. An earlier project phase focused on the hygiene and sanitation practices and strategies of unhoused people dwelling near waterways in San Diego, California. Our current work examines survival strategies and service access in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Hygiene and Sanitation
Service Utilization
Policing and Criminalization


Unmet Needs of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness Near San Diego Waterways: The Roles of Displacement and Overburdened Service Systems

Shawn Teresa Flanigan and Megan Welsh (Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 2020)

Black Lives Experiencing Homelessness Matter: A Critical Conceptual Framework for Understanding How Policing Drives System Avoidance among Vulnerable Populations

Megan Welsh Carroll, Shawn Teresa Flanigan, and Nicolas Gutierrez III (Public Integrity, 2023)

Psychological Costs and Administrative Burdens Produce Systemic Service Avoidance among People Experiencing Homelessness

Tiffany Hoang, Jennifer K. Felner, Shawn T. Flanigan, and Megan Welsh Carroll (Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 2022)

Increasing Access to Public Bathrooms is Critical for San Diegans’ Health

Jennifer Felner, Megan Welsh Carroll, and Jerel Calzo (Scholars Strategy Network, 2020)

Why Cities Must End Their Reliance on Police to Manage Homelessness – and How They Can Do It

Megan Welsh Carroll and Jennifer Felner (Scholars Strategy Network, 2020)

Understanding Community Acceptance of and Opposition to Homeless-Serving Facilities

Nicolas Gutierrez III, Megan Welsh Carroll, and Brian Adams (Scholars Strategy Network, 2022)

Related Academic Presentations

“Black Lives Experiencing Homelessness Matter: Perspectives on Policing from Unsheltered People in San Diego.” Megan Welsh, Nicolas Gutierrez III, and Shawn Flanigan. Society for the Study of Social Problems, virtual convening due to COVID-19 pandemic, August 4-7, 2021.

“Black Lives Experiencing Homelessness Matter: Perspectives of Policing and Other Institutional Interactions from African Americans Experiencing Homelessness in San Diego.” Shawn Flanigan, Nicolas Gutierrez III, and Megan Welsh. PA Theory Network Conference, virtual convening due to COVID-19 pandemic, June 3-6, 2021.

“Black Lives Experiencing Homelessness Matter: Perspectives on Policing from Unsheltered People in San Diego.” Nicolas Gutierrez III. San Diego State University Student Research Symposium, virtual convening due to COVID-19 pandemic, March 19-20, 2021.

“Using Research to Drive Homeless Policy: Partnerships Between Universities and the Homeless System of Care.” Nicole Blumenfeld, Shawn Flanigan, Kris Kuntz, and Megan Welsh. San Diego Housing Federation Annual Conference, San Diego, CA, October 5-9, 2020.

“Homelessness, health, and the natural environment: The hygiene and sanitation practices and survival strategies of unhoused people dwelling near the San Diego River.” Shawn Flanigan, Matthew Verbyla and Megan Welsh. Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology, San Francisco, CA, November 13-16, 2019.

“Water, sanitation and hygiene for people experiencing homelessness: A transdisciplinary approach for developing sustainable solutions for unhoused individuals.” Shawn Flanigan, Mirelle Garcia, Natalie Mladenov, Matthew E. Verbyla and Megan Welsh. Fall 2019 American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exhibition, San Diego, CA, August 25-29 2019.

“Homelessness and the natural environment: An examination of the hygiene and sanitation practices and survival strategies of unhoused people dwelling near waterways in San Diego, California.” Shawn Flanigan and Megan Welsh. 69th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, New York, NY, August 9-11, 2019.

“Homeless encampments and waterways: interdisciplinary potential for research and solutions.” Jose Calderon, Marina Chavez, Shawn Flanigan, Mireille Garcia, Ryan Sinclair, Matthew Verbyla, and Megan Welsh. 61st Annual Conference of the Western Social Science Association, San Diego, CA, April 24-27, 2019.



Dr. Megan Welsh Carroll Received the Dignity Defender of the Year Award from Think Dignity

“In October 2023, Dr. Megan Welsh Carroll, Associate Professor of Public Administration and Criminal Justice, received the inaugural Dignity Defender of the Year Award from Think Dignity, a San Diego grassroots non-profit that advocates for the rights and humanity of people facing housing insecurity. She shares this award with Judith Vaughs of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest.” (SDSU School of Public Affairs News)

Episode 249: Unhoused and Underserved (with Dr. WC)

“According to Professor Megan Welsh Carroll, racial discrimination, criminalization, and of course, the high cost of housing all contribute to this growing crisis. And while progress is being made, many critical public services remain out of reach for this group, including one that has led to serious public health issues: a lack of public restrooms.” (No Jargon, Scholars Strategy Network’s Podcast)

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) Study Presented to Regional Managers

“Dr. Megan Welsh Carroll, Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs, accompanied by Public Health graduate student Malaya Cilley, recently engaged with city managers and assistant city managers from across the San Diego region to gather feedback on the statewide Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) study—a collaborative project with the California Department of Public Health, Office of Health Equity.” (SDSU School of Public Affairs News)

Detractors Fear Tent Crackdown Will Make Things Worse for Black Homeless Residents

“A 2022 San Diego State study suggested increased police encounters could discourage Black San Diegans and others from seeking shelter.” (Voice of San Diego)

Studies Show Policing Doesn’t End Homelessness. San Diego Officials Double Down Anyway

“Two weeks ago, university researchers told the San Diego City Council that police officers are not equipped to deal with the underlying issues of homelessness and instead cause more harm.” (inewsource)

‘I Know I’m Black, but I’m Not a Criminal’ | SDSU Researchers Find Racism in SDPD’s Treatment of Unhoused Black People

“Researchers at San Diego State University say negative interactions with police are driving Black people who are experiencing homelessness away from services and housing opportunities. (CBS 8 San Diego)

Disconnect Between How SDSP Says It Interacts With Homeless and What Unhoused People Report: Study

“‘What we’re sharing today, are data that really indicate that police are not the best positioned to be first-responders to homelessness,’ Welsh-Carroll said. ‘The folks that we spoke with shared a lot of, quite frankly, overtly racist and homophobic slurs that police will use.'” (NBC 7 San Diego)

Buscan Prohibir Campamentos de “Homeless” en vía Pública

“Mientras tanto, un estudio realizado por investigadores de la Universidad Estatal de San Diego afirma que el aumento de las medidas represivas puede agravar el problema, ya que el contacto con la policía puede hacer que algunas personas duden a la hora de obtener servicios.” (Televisa Californias – Tijuana, BC, MX)

Council Grapples With Report on Policing Impacts Unhoused Black San Diegans

“San Diego City Councilmembers on Tuesday grappled with takeaways from a San Diego State study that found that negative police encounters left unhoused Black San Diegans reluctant to accept services and aid.” (Voice of San Diego)

Mayor Gloria, Councilmember Whitburn Announce New Efforts Against Homelessness

“Meantime a study from researchers at San Diego State University says ramping up enforcement can deepen the issue, because contact with police can make some people hesitant to get services.” (ABC 10News San Diego)

Study Highlights San Diego Police Handling of Homeless Issues

“Researchers from San Diego State University told members of the San Diego City Council on Tuesday that officers are only offering shelters and other services 13 percent of the time and some officers are being hostile toward the homeless.” (NewsRadio AM 600 KOGO)

HSS’ Gutierrez and Welsh Carroll recognized as top MCJC student and faculty member

SDSU School of Public Affairs named Nicolas Gutierrez III as the 2021-22 “Most Outstanding Student” and Dr. Megan Welsh Carroll as the 2021-22 “Most Influential Faculty Member” in the Criminal Justice and Criminology master’s program.

Co-PIs Shawn Flanigan and Megan Welsh receive JHHSA’s Best Article Award

“Congratulations to Shawn Flanigan and Megan Welsh on the selection of their paper, ‘Unmet Needs of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness Near San Diego Waterways: The Roles of Displacement and Overburdened Service Systems’ as the best article published in the Journal of Health and Human Services Administration’s Vol 43 (2021). We are pleased to make this paper freely available to all readers.” (JHHS Press Release)

HSS’ Nicolas Gutierrez III named 2022 Public Administration Theory Network Fellow

“The Public Administration Theory Network Fellows program is designed to help nurture critical and theoretical scholarship in the field of public administration through a variety of events hosted at the annual conference.” (PATNet Twitter)

Tackling COVID-19 in San Diego: SDSU Projects Address Vulnerable Communities

“Shawn Flanigan and Megan Welsh, professors in the School of Public Affairs, are surveying unsheltered homeless individuals to understand how people are coping and surviving during shelter-in-place orders, which have disrupted access to needed services and resources.” (SDSU NewsCenter)

Student Scholarship Shines at the 2022 Student Research Symposium

HSS student researchers, Nicolas Gutierrez III (Dean’s Award: College of Professional Studies & Fine Arts) and Becki Alvarado (Summer Undergraduate Research Program Award), were among the award recipients at the 2022 Student Research Symposium. (SDSU NewsCenter)

Stopped by police in San Diego? A lot depends on where you live, drive

“While the difference is not large, the stops-per-crime ratio was far higher in some areas than others. And a comparison of similar beats — or those that have about the same number of reported crimes and similar population totals — revealed significant racial disparities.” (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

HSS’ Nicolas Gutierrez III named CSU Sally Casanova Scholar

“‘This research is important because it comes at a time when government officials in Los Angeles are ditching service-oriented approaches to homelessness in favor of criminalizing its most vulnerable residents,’ said Gutierrez. ‘While my work focuses on Los Angeles, the city represents a microcosm of our nation’s homelessness crisis and inhumane responses.'” (SDSU NewsCenter)

San Diego Still Can’t Solve Its Public Restroom Problem

“Having access to public restrooms is an issue San Diego’s homeless population grapples with every day, and it’s an issue that’s knocked on the doors of San Diego’s public officials for decades. Still, access to public restrooms is lacking, and it’s contributing to public health threats that have sickened many.” (Voice of San Diego)

Looking to Keep Imperial Beach Above Water

“Welsh is another SDSU professor who will manage to engage the community with their opinions and solutions. She suggested simply investing in rain barrels to harvest rainwater could help prevent water from flowing into storm drains and compounding the problem.” (NBC7)

Opinion: Universal bathroom access in San Diego could help save lives. Here’s how.

“We must prioritize universal bathroom access for all San Diegans. Here’s how we can do it. Instead of using police to criminalize life-sustaining activities like urination, let’s invest in bathrooms as part of the solution.” (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Forum on San Diego’s Future: San Diego SSN Members Share Their Recommendations

“Criminalization actually perpetuates homelessness: if our goal is to eliminate homelessness from our city streets, criminalization is counterproductive.” (Scholars Strategy Network)

Commentary: Our research showed racial disparities in San Diego police stops. Our report was shelved.

“We earnestly believed that providing data on police officer behavior would help to eliminate racial disparities. But we were wrong. Why? Because police departments should not be trusted to reform themselves.” (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

University of California Tobacco Related-Disease Research Program Emergency COVID-19 Research Seed Funding, Co-PIs Megan Welsh and Shawn Flanigan

This grant funds a rapid response research project entitled “Service Utilization and Survival Strategies of Unsheltered Homeless During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Using mobile phone text messaging technology, this project examined the survival strategies and service utilization patterns of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in San Diego during the COVID-19 pandemic. (SDSU NewsCenter)