The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

“You Don't Know What You've Got Until They Get in There”: Older Residents' Perspectives of Budget Hotels As Micro-Communities of Affiliation

Friday, January 17, 2014: 9:30 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Terri Lewinson, PhD, Assistant Professor, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA
Background: Despite lack of regular enumeration, older men and women on the fringe of street homelessness live in budget hotels for temporary shelter (Lewinson, 2011). Although a budget hotel provides an immediate roof overhead, stability in this form of housing is precarious at best since changes in residents’ abilities to pay nightly or weekly rental fees can result in quick evictions with very little notice (Warnes, Crane, Whitehead, & Fu, 2003). Resident challenges in hotel accommodations is a growing area of study (Lewinson, 2010; Warnes et al., 2003; Woollcott, 2008) and recent research has associated living in hotels with comorbid health problems such as chronic diseases, substance abuse, exposure to violence, and increased rates of suicide and mortality for low-income older adults (Hwang, Wilkins, Tjepkema, O'Campo, & Dunn, 2009). However, little is known about how low-income older residents perceive and describe budget hotel environments, interactions inside these institutions, and associated health outcomes. Fine and Van Den Scott (2011) used the term “micro-communities” to frame a discussion of temporary communal institutions where members create social ties that are transitory. The concept of micro-communities provides a useful lens to explore older residents’ perceptions of interactions and affiliations at transitory budget hotels that may influence health.

Methods: In this qualitative study, a purposive sample of 15 low-income older adults aged 49-64, were recruited to participate in this study to understand the residential context of budget hotels and health. Participants earned less than $33,000 annually, and lived exclusively in a budget hotel an average of 59 weeks as a result of housing displacement. Data were gathered using photo-elicitation techniques, which are effective in allowing participants to visually describe their physical and social worlds using photographic images during in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Interviews, lasting between 60-90 minutes, were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. AtlasTi 5.5 qualitative data analysis software was used to code and analyze transcripts, photographs, and analytic memos.

Findings: Two themes of affiliation within the budget hotel micro-community emerged from the data: socio-spatial and temporal. The socio-spatial micro-community affiliation consisted of people who were insiders at the hotel (rulers, heroes, undesirables) and people who were outsiders in the hotel neighborhood (scammers, harassers, healers). The temporal micro-community affiliation referred to tenured resident identities (long-termers, weekenders, and night crawlers). Occasioned interactions between people within these two domains of micro-community affiliation created dynamic, and often disturbing, contexts that influenced older adult health and wellbeing.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings of this study highlight subgroup affiliations among residents at budget hotels and micro-community interactions that influence health and well-being for older adults. From this research, practitioners can learn about socio-spatial and temporal affiliations that hinder a sense of community and contribute to poorer resident health management and health outcomes. Additionally, positive affiliations that exist within these micro-communities are identified as resources for community building and resource development for older residents. This research also expands the literature on communities that house an understudied population of low-income older adults.