First Advisor

Carl Abbott

Term of Graduation

Winter 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Homeless women -- Social conditions, Geographical perception, Spatial behavior, Cities and towns, Geographic information systems



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 196 pages)


This study explores the intersection of urban unsafety and the marginalized population of homeless women. Specifically, it investigates how homeless women identify/perceive and navigate unsafe urban space. Specific research questions include:

1. What does housing insecurity look like for an unhoused woman?

2. In what ways is mental mapping a robust tool for gathering the stories (data) of vulnerable populations such as unhoused women?

3. What does the spatialization of unsafe locations look like and are demographic groupings dissimilarly affected?

4. What are the critical reasons for unsafety identified by participants?

5. How do homeless women respond to urban unsafety; that is, what strategies do they utilize?

The experiences of marginalized homeless women are not well studied or understood; there is little research on homeless women's perceptions of and responses to urban unsafety. This research affords an often-invisible group an opportunity to make themselves and their stories more visible, through the "radical" aspect of mental mapping. The key research methods are mental maps and interviews which provide data not only on demographics but also on unsafe locations, reasons for and responses to unsafety, and spatialization and maps of unsafety using Graphic Information Systems (GIS).

Through GIS maps and graphs, key results show different patterns of spatial usage and movement in terms of race/ethnicity (White vs. Non-White), age (over 55 vs. under 40), type of housing (Inside vs. Outside Living), and sex work (Non-Sex Worker vs. Sex Worker). Those women who are White, over 55, Inside Living, or a Non-Sex Worker have broader areas of geographic movement than do others in this study; one might consider this a notion of higher status. The data also illustrate that the participants' primary response to unsafety is avoidance; the principal categories for reasons for unsafe locations, as indicated by the women, involve both the Built Environment and Too Many People.

Themes which emerged include Housing Insecurity, Older Women Living in Vehicles, Art of Mental Mapping (as a robust, inclusive, and amazing research method, especially with marginalized groups), and Spatial Inequity (illustrating demographic groupings dissimilarly affected.) The concluding thesis of isolation draws together these factors, themes, and maps. The intrinsic lived experiences of our participants, involving poverty, fragmentation of services, unsafety, untreated trauma, and spatial inequity, illustrate and support our thesis of isolation.


© 2021 Jan Radle Roberson

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