Amid rising rates of homelessness across the United States, more than ever, we must interrogate why some unhoused individuals are unable or unwilling to seek out resources within their local service landscapes. Although quantitative studies have documented a positive relationship between feelings of trust and service utilization rates among the unhoused, qualitative research on this subject matter is severely lacking. My research addresses this scholarly gap. Through ethnographic observations of a low-barrier service along with formal interviews with the site's staff members and patrons, I explore how trust is established, maintained, and strengthened between these two parties. I find that trust largely derives from the service provider's ability to cultivate an environment conducive to low-stakes interactions. I also find that once unhoused patrons or staff members felt trusting of their counterparts, they advanced trust by engaging with one another in interactions that transcended the transactional nature of giving or receiving care. With these findings, I put my research in conversation with trust scholarship, highlighting how conventional theoretical frameworks cannot fully capture the nuanced context of homelessness.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Faculty Advisor

Stephen Ellingson, Jaime Kucinskas

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.