University of Northern Colorado
Type of Resources
Place of Publication
University of Northern Colorado
Poverty and homelessness is a social problem that impacts all communities in the U.S. and globally. Social programs that address these issues often focus on mobilizing resources to provide opportunities to increase the social position of their clients and meet their basic needs. Sociological research into this problem, however, has emphasized the influence of social connections in the experiences of individuals in poverty. Social capital is the conceptual representation of actual or potential resources obtained through social network connections. Existing literature regarding social capital has demonstrated that social connections are a critical aspect of human social experience and the ability to overcome obstacles and obtain opportunities for upward social mobility, which may provide an opportunity for individuals to escape poverty. However, much of the literature connecting social capital to homelessness has been directed towards examining the social connections of individuals, and therefore, neglects an analysis of the mobilization of social capital in service organizations. This research addresses this lacuna by examining organizational practices and social network structures in a sample of homeless service providers. The purpose of this study was to analyze the practices of human service organizations that promote the development and utilization of their social network connections. This research thus provides a descriptive review of how organizations mobilize social capital in their community to the benefit of their clients. To frame the analysis, I use sociological theories on social capital, resource mobilization, and social networks to investigate the question of how human service organizations leverage their social connections to the benefit of their clients. To investigate this question, I use a thematic analysis of 10 qualitative interviews, with a sample of organizational leaders from 7 organizations, and a sociometric analysis of the network connections between 83 organizations in the sample’s community. The results demonstrate that the organizations use practices that employ social capital to: a) mobilize collective community resources, b) develop trust and reciprocity between providers and clients, c) produce social solidarity between clients and the community, and d) develop social ties that provide social support and opportunities for upward mobility. The findings provide an outline for identifying social capital in organizations, which can be used in future research to evaluate the effectiveness of mobilizing social capital for individuals experiencing periods of poverty and homelessness. Additionally, the results review the challenges and potential benefits of developing organizational networks. This research contributes to sociological theory and academic literature by offering evidence of social capital in connections between entities other than individuals. In conclusion, this study informs social policy and encourages organizations to act as members of a connected network, as opposed to acting as individual service providers.
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