People experiencing homelessness and/or sleeping rough (sleeping in open air or in inadequate dwellings) are exposed to multiple layers of vulnerability including social isolation and lack of support from others. Without resources that help them transition out of constant survival mode, it can be difficult for people sleeping rough to maintain relationships and build social capital. Social capital broadly refers to the positive impact that community resources have on a subject or group. This case study adds to the existing literature on homelessness by providing a perspective focused on themes of community connection and social capital. To explore how community spaces encourage the (re)building of social capital for people sleeping rough, I conducted a qualitative case study in Byron Bay, Australia, a tourist community with the second highest number of people sleeping rough in New South Wales. Methods for data collection included a three-month internship at the Byron Community Centre (BCC) (fall of 2019), six semi-structured interviews with BCC staff and volunteers, and participant observations of BCC clients. This case study suggests that social capital building involves both community connections and access to community spaces for people sleeping rough. It further finds that programs and projects directly addressing basic needs can indirectly create opportunities that cultivate a sense of belonging both within a physical space and social community. It concludes that the accrual of social capital can aid people sleeping rough by helping them to avoid or mitigate conflicts and establish social trust and access to resources.


Homelessness, sleeping rough, social capital, community connection, emotional support, basic needs

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Nigel Hayes

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Sociology Commons