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Visualisations of homelessness
The impact of stakeholders conceptualisations of homelessness and how it effects their interactions with the homeless community
Charities Interaction: Provide emergency accommodation and other services (i.e. support workers), first point of contact for rough sleepers. Conceptualisation: Acknowledge hidden homelessness, relatively confident that homelessness is on the rise. Visualisation: A complex domestic and structural issue. Interaction: Provide units of housing without requiring proof that client is ‘housing ready’, help client sustain property. Conceptualisation: Recognises different types. Visualisation: Emphasise unique experience of homeless individuals and consequently different solutions needed. Interaction: Provide a range of services (i.e. signposting) and activities.
Abstract Different definitions of homelessness have serious implications where the homeless community is concerned, often deciding who is and isn’t eligible for assistance (Neale, 1997; Burrows, et.al., 1997). Quantifying homelessness is problematic because of changing and easily manipulated definitions and ‘hidden’ homelessness (Widdowfield, 1998). It was expected that stakeholders would conceptualise homelessness differently and this consequently would impact on how they interacted with the homeless population of Oxford. A visual methodology is used to show conceptualisations of homelessness by specific stakeholders in Oxford. It attempts to understand the impact conceptualisation has on these various stakeholders’ interactions by comparing them. Recurring themes are academically situated by referring to the most prevalent academic debates in homelessness literature on structure and agency and questions of “deserving” and “undeserving” homelessness. Conceptualisations differ in the sense that they emphasise different aspects of homelessness, and therefore see different solutions to the issue. It is also suggested here conceptualisations and interactions may be somewhat counterproductive and that interactions are also strongly influenced by other external restrictions rather than conceptualisations.
Visualisation: Emphasise social exclusion.
Interaction: Arrest, move on and protect as part of a wider aim to reduce crime and disorder.
Reading of literature and non-academic sources before and after interviews
Much of the data was dated so made sure to read more recent publications. Referenced a variety of sources to try to remain unbiased. Was aware of where the publication came from and what motives behind it may be (for example when reading information given on charity websites).
To have a substantial amount of knowledge about the issue of homelessness, its history and the current situation, in order to ask insightful questions in interviews. To gain understanding of the main themes, current conceptualisations held by different bodies and theoretical perspectives. Facilitated recognition of what was missing from the literature and what I may be able to bring with my research. After interviews was able to pursue suggested sources.
There was less academic literature specifically written about homelessness in Oxford. Use of the councils housing strategies helped contextual understanding.
Research of stakeholders prior to interview and contact
Researched different stakeholders in the area. Created a profiles of the stakeholder before interview.
To interview a range of stakeholders. Profiles helped tailor the interview to the candidate, avoid unnecessary questions and to enhance engagement.
Did not get replies from all stakeholders, an interview with the council could have enhanced research.
Always had two recording devices. Held meeting with supervisor about ethics. Avoided research that could have unethical implications. Took ethics forms to interviews and made sure they were read and signed to give consent about being recorded and names being used. Checked back with candidates who asked to make sure they were happy with write up, with regard to this rephrased a sentence for one stakeholder.
To understand how different stakeholders conceptualise homelessness. To avoid upsetting, offending or harming participants in any way. To make sure published work would not negatively affect the participants.
Two candidates couldn’t meet in person so interviews were held over email. Meetings held in coffee shops had background noise proving problematic for easy communication and recording quality.
Sent diagrams back to participants (with no indication of which diagram links to which stakeholder) asking them to pick which diagrams aligned best with their conceptualisation.
To check if the stakeholder would pick their diagram, to validate interpretation made by researcher.
Only 3 out of 11 participants volunteered to partake.
Participant observation – outing with goodwill group
For safety stayed with the goodwill group.
Wasn’t used directly in the project but gave experience of homelessness on a more personal level. Gave further scope understanding the individual complexity of the problem of homelessness and justified the importance of highlighting such an issue.
Couldn’t be used in actual project due to ethical limitations.
Conceptualisation: Acknowledge ‘vulnerably housed’ and those outside of statutory definitions, sure homelessness is increasing.
Police Students Conceptualisation: Homeless are not responsible for position. Homelessness will increase.
12 in total 11 used for diagrams
Visualisation: Housing out of reach. Interaction: Raise awareness, challenge political orthodoxy and “toxic” ‘welfare myth’ (dividing “us”, responsible taxpayers and, them, supposedly irresponsibly taking out). Conceptualisation: Chronic issue exuberated by stigmas, “people who are down on their luck” and vulnerable. Will always exist. Visualisation: Ladders as services and snakes vulnerabilities.
Goodwill Groups Interaction: Distribute food and engage in conversation with rough sleepers. Conceptualisation: Include vulnerably housed. Will always exist. Rigid structures and personal issues problematic. Visualisation: Homeless it is extremely difficult to get out of. Interaction: Secondary encounter, engage in conversation, provide assistance, removes bottles. Conceptualisation: Recognises ‘hidden homeless’, homelessness on the rise, a need for more mental health services.
Interaction: Grassroots housing campaign against rising rents, creates strategies and influences policy. Conceptualisation: ‘Houselessness”, the street can be a ‘home’, experience of homelessness is diverse. Optimistic: current ‘crises’ is possible to change. Has an economic focus.
Supervised by Dr Helen Walkington
“framing social reality through visual methods” (Wee et al., 2013, p.166)
Nationally Whether homelessness is increasing or not is debatable and to a large extent unknown. National policy change, with regard to housing, a growing gap between rents and wages and welfare benefit reforms are limiting housing benefits and housing security; consequently increasing the risk of homelessness (Dorling 2014; Oxford County Council, 2016).
The diagrams shown are collaboratively produced representations (Pink, 2001) of homelessness. The visual methodology acts as an alternative way of drawing attention to an issue when statistics are largely redundant (Widdowfield, 1998). Pauwel’s framework of visual methodology Varying levels of autonomy between researcher and interviewee occurred as a result of the development of the project. Pink (2001, pp.40-1) suggests that “unanticipated uses of the visual maybe discovered by accident and retrospectively defined as visual methods”. This is the case with this project. As a result the respondent-generated diagrams from the first interviews are interpretations by the researcher, others are collaborations by researcher and interviewee and others are given diagrams, by the interviewee. The latter were produced through a non-algorithmic technique whereby the production of the diagram encouraged the interviewee to engage to a greater extent and even learn from the interview. The diagrams are expressive tools and visual aids, showing conceptualisations of homelessness by stakeholders (Margolis and Pauwels, 2011).
Oxford • 10/83 of Oxford’s neighbourhood areas are in the 20% most deprived in England (Council, 2016). •
The “cosmetic” appearance of Oxford is important as it is a tourist city (Dorling, 2014, p.276) affecting how the homeless are interacted with by subsets of society.
One of the least affordable places to live in the UK. Has a low supply of housing and high demand, long lists for social housing and high levels of renting making families more vulnerable to eviction (Oxford County Council, 2016). Many interviewees expressed concern over the housing crisis increasing vulnerability.
Green belt restricts land available for housing.
Visualisation: Like being on another level of society. Interaction: Provide food and drink, build relationships. Conceptualisation: Lacking security, structural linked to geography of Oxford. An expressions of other problems, different for everyone. Not a choice. Visualisation: Individual success can occur and this is what can be focused on, the person breaking out of a shell stands as a metaphor for ‘breaking out of’ homelessness.
Members of Parliament Interaction: Campaigns, works with organisation, considers housing needs of refugees, discusses work and future strategies’ for homelessness. Conceptualisation: “complex and challenging problem”, not responsible, recognises those outside of ‘statutory homeless’. Optimistic about reduction of homelessness. Visualisation: A multi-dimensional concept Interaction: Presses for more affordable housing. Conceptualisation: Recognises ‘hidden homeless’, not optimistic about homelessness, suggests multiprong approach. Visualisation: Mass social problem rooted in structures influenced by policy.
The same themes that run throughout the conceptualisations are: • Homelessness is “undeserving” (Neale, 1997) • A negative experience • Isolating which can be academically situated with “othering” (Krumer-Nevo and Benjamin, 2010) • Difficult to get out of, with associations to both individual and structural factors as responsible for the situation (Chapleau, 2010) • A subjective and unique experience, this contests much literature that conceptualises the homeless as a “fluid and heterogeneous, assemblage” (Lanione, 2013, p.359) Conceptualisations differ in the sense that they emphasise different aspects of homelessness, such as social exclusion, the housing crises or homelessness as a structural issue. They also see different solutions, though this may be counterproductive in the sense that the interaction influences conceptualisation as much as the conceptualisation influences interaction. There is the recognition of ‘homelessness’ as something that falls outside of stricter definitions, such as the statutory definition suggesting that interactions that have to keep to these are impinged from the outside, rather than by more flexible conceptualisations. Though there were different emphasises it can be argued that overall interactions are influenced primarily by other external restrictions rather than conceptualisations. For example, the abundance of homelessness in Oxford, political ideological undercurrents and funding cuts.
References BBC, (2014). Oxford Westgate Centre approved. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-englandoxfordshire-30180827 [Accessed 21 Mar. 2016]. Burrows, R., Pleace, N. and Quilgars, D. (1997). Homelessness and social policy. London: Routledge. Council, O. (2016). Education and Skills in Oxford | Education and Skills in Oxford | Oxford City Council. [online] Oxford.gov.uk. Available at: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20125/education_and_skills/455/education_and_skills_in_oxford [Accessed 21 Mar. 2016]. Council, O. (2016). Geography of Oxford | Geography of Oxford | Oxford City Council. [online] Oxford.gov.uk. Available at: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20133/geography/456/geography_of_oxford [Accessed 21 Mar. 2016]. Council, O. (2016). Poverty and Deprivation | Poverty and Deprivation | Oxford City Council. [online] Oxford.gov.uk. Available at: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20131/population/497/poverty_and_deprivation [Accessed 21 Mar. 2016]. Dorling, D. (2014). All that is Solid. London: Penguin book Ltd, pp.273-281. Krumer-Nevo, M. and Benjamin, O. (2010). Critical Poverty Knowledge: Contesting Othering and Social Distancing. Current Sociology, 58(5), pp.693-714.
Lancione, M. (2013). Homeless people and the city of abstract machines: Assemblage thinking and the performative approach to homelessness. Area, 45(3), pp.358-364. Margolis, E. and Pauwels, L. (2011). The SAGE handbook of visual research methods. Los Angeles: SAGE. Neale, J. (1997). Homelessness and theory reconsidered. Housing Studies, 12(1), pp.47-61. Pink, S. (2001). Doing visual ethnography. London: Sage. Interviews with anonymised stakeholders (2015), Oxford Oxford County Council, (2016). Evidence Base for Homelessness Strategy 2013-18 Update Nov 2015. Homelessness Strategy Evidence Base. [online] pp.1-24. Available at: http://file:///C:/Users/Rosemary/Downloads/HomelessStrategyEvidenceBase_Update_Nov_2015.pdf [Accessed 17 Feb. 2016]. Wee, B., DePierre, A., Anthamatten, P. and Barbour, J. (2013). Visual methodology as a pedagogical research tool in geography education. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 37(2), pp.164-173. Widdowfield, R. (1998). Quantifying homelessness: the limitations of official and unofficial statistics. Radical Statistics, (67), pp.17 – 28 All drawings are author owned.