AIDS and Behavior

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 774–784 | Cite as

Sex and Relationships on the Street: How Homeless Men Judge Partner Risk on Skid Row

  • Ryan A. Brown
  • David P. Kennedy
  • Joan S. Tucker
  • Suzanne L. Wenzel
  • Daniela Golinelli
  • Samuel R. Wertheimer
  • Gery W. Ryan
Original Paper


Homeless men in the U.S. represent a large and growing population, and have elevated rates of HIV/AIDS and sexual risk behaviors, including unprotected sex with women. We conducted qualitative interviews (n = 30) with homeless men using shelters and meal lines in downtown Los Angeles (Skid Row) to better understand how such men view the risks of sexual encounters with female partners. Men living on Skid Row perceived multiple risks, including HIV and unwanted pregnancy as well as emotional trauma, loss of resources, exacerbation of drug addiction, and physical attack. Respondents described using visual and behavioral cues, social reputation, geographical location, feelings of trust, perceived relationship seriousness, and medically inaccurate “folk” beliefs to judge whether partners were risky and/or condom use was warranted. Medically inaccurate beliefs suggest the potential utility of evidence-based interventions to change such beliefs. We also consider implications for relationships on the street and housing interventions.


Homelessness Risk perception Qualitative Partner selection Skid Row 



This research was supported by NICHD—R01HD059307 (Wenzel). Many thanks to Mary Lou Gilbert, Fred Mills, and Rick Garvey for their critical efforts during field work and interviewing. We would also like to thank the men we interviewed on Skid Row for their trust and patience during the interview process. This research would not have been possible without the cooperation of participating shelters and meal lines in downtown Los Angeles: Los Angeles Mission, Midnight Mission, Union Rescue Mission, New Image Emergency Shelter, St. Vincent Cardinal Manning Center, Fred Jordan Mission, and Emmanuel Baptist Rescue Mission.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ryan A. Brown
    • 1
  • David P. Kennedy
    • 1
  • Joan S. Tucker
    • 1
  • Suzanne L. Wenzel
    • 1
    • 2
  • Daniela Golinelli
    • 1
  • Samuel R. Wertheimer
    • 1
  • Gery W. Ryan
    • 1
  1. 1.RAND Corporation—RAND HealthSanta MonicaUSA
  2. 2.School of Social Work, University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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