The Doorway Project is an initiative co-led by the University of Washington and YouthCare to address youth and young adult homelessness in the University District (Seattle) through continuous community-engaged collaboration with U District service providers. They have developed the following trainings meant for people who volunteer, wish to volunteer, or wish to engage more thoughtfully with unhoused individuals. To learn more about the Doorway Project and what they do, visit 

This is intended as a resource, please keep in mind that this is not comprehensive training.

Often times, as volunteers or staff in social services, we choose to be in the space or to engage with people. This is a privilege that not many of our clients hold. We need to be aware of and responsive to the privileges that we may carry that our clients may not. This includes not only being aware of how oppression and privilege may manifest on structural and cultural levels, but also in how these manifest on interpersonal levels.

Oppression & Privilege

Oppression: Sociology defines oppression as the systematic mistreatment, exploitation, and abuse of a group (or groups) of people by another group (or groups). It occurs whenever one group holds power over another in society through the control of social institutions, along with society's laws, customs, and norms.

  • Intersectionality of Identity: Every person holds many identities, some more salient than others. When many of these identities are disadvantaged or marginalized, people experience intersectionality of oppression.
    • Age, Disability, Religion, Race & Ethnicity, Sexuality, Class, Gender
  • Multidimensionality: oppression operates on multiple levels (dimensions) from structural, to cultural, to personal. These levels also vary on whether the impact was intended or unintended. This has been referred to as the iceberg of oppression.
  • Privilege: can be considered to be the unearned, not necessarily undeserved, opportunities that people have due to the identities that they carry, not the merits they have earned; “the things that you have without having to think about having them.”
  • Positionality: In thinking about privilege, it is important to consider the ways that you carry privilege and oppression and how that might impact the space that you take up and the understandings you walk in with.


As you prepare to volunteer your time and energy, consider the following questions:

  • How does my background/upbringing affect the way I see the world (or the situation I’m about to enter?)
  • Do I have biases or assumptions based on anything discussed here that I need to be aware of and try to mitigate?
  • Do I have an internalized understandings of superiority and inferiority that affect my interactions?
  • During your volunteer time, pay attention to how you feel, what you’re thinking, and focus on staying authentically engaged even if you’re processing discomfort, surprise, or confusion.


It may be helpful to reflect afterwards:

  • Did I have assumptions coming into this experience, and were they contradicted?
  • How does this change the way I see the world, especially this marginalized population?
  • What did I learn, personally?


Interpersonal Oppression & Stereotypes: Privilege and Oppression are often entangled with the stereotypes and judgments that are placed upon people. Our clients live with stereotypes like “dirty,” “lazy,” “addicted,” “crazy,” and “criminal.” When unpacked, each stereotype can be either proven false or a product of an unjust system.

    • Dirty: Many folks engage in frequent bathing & laundering, but reduced availability of public toilets, showers and laundry facilities negatively impacts the hygiene of folks experiencing homelessness.
    • Lazy: Many folks experiencing homelessness are working formal jobs (45%). This would be a higher percentage if “under the table” work was included as folks adopt ingenious ways to subsist.
    • Addict: Substance abuse is often a result of homelessness rather than a cause as folks use as a means to cope. Many folks who are addicted never become homeless, whereas poor folks struggling with addiction are more likely to experience homelessness.
    • Crazy: People with severe mental illnesses (major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia) are in the minority of homeless folks  (13-15%). Still, these folks are among the most visible due to the extreme lack of mental health services for people with severe mental illnesses.
    • Criminal: Folks on the street are more likely to be victims of crimes rather than perpetrators. Attacks against homeless people have resulted in hate crime legislation in some states. Even for folks who have committed crimes (~20%), these crimes are often survival crimes (prostitution, shoplifting, trespassing). Homelessness in itself is criminalized in many ways (through various laws, hostile architecture, and banishment from public spaces).


      Media & Homelessness. The media often depicts the most troubling aspects of homelessness and often relies on stereotypes to do so. Be mindful of how this might come up in the media that you consume and how critical you are of it.

      Structural Oppression & Causes of Homelessness: Homelessness is the manifestation of poverty and inequality. It is one of the most visible reminders of structural inadequacies and inequalities. This is especially true across various axes of oppression, where classism, homophobia/transphobia and racism result in immense disproportionalities across populations.

      Contextualizing Demographics:

      • Racism: People of Color are 3-7 times more likely to experience homelessness as compared to white people.
      • Classism: Poverty is inextricably linked to Homelessness.  
      • Homophobia/Transphobia: especially for youth and young adults, homelessness is linked to LGBTQ status (~20-40% of young adults experiencing homelessness are part of the LGBTQ community).
      Categories: Resources