Post 8: Changing the Face Of Homelessness

Brainstorming Possibilities for a Design Response.

– Maria Yanovsky 2016

 

Before reading this post, I implore you to watch this particular TED talk. It is one thing to hear this discussion from global speakers, but there is a resonating power, hearing Orsini’s point of view as a part of the contemporary Australian youth. It is predominantly to the ideas that she is expressing (alienation, stigma, negative assumptions, mistrust, invisibility, stereotypes) that I wish to design to. To understand the crux of homelessness and why I am designing what I am designing, this TED talk is on point the results all my previous posts have been exploring.                 

 

“If you’re not apart of the solution, you’re part of the problem”- Maurice Young, 2015

From newspaper articles to essays, to social experiments to data mining social media. To analysing images and countless brainstorming. What does this all sum up to? Within my understanding of the core roots of homelessness this entire process has given me clarity into the heart of the issues that drive alienation and dehumization of marginalised social groups such as the homeless. These answers may seem bleak, however the potential for positive change is fruitless. This next post will aim to examine an angle in which I would like to take a design proposition, predominantly focusing on the dehumanisation of Homelessness through stigma; specifically, alienation  which occurs through discourse and voluntary and involuntary human actions. In order to come up with a clear problem statement and draft proposal it was pertinent that I examine the five w’s to narrow down all the research and my thoughts into a concise paragraph.

IDEO

Who:

  • Homeless people are at the pinnacle of this issue, as it both involves and affects them. However, this is such a broad term, there are homeless kids, adults, migrants, mothers, mentally ill people and many who are experiencing many kinds of homelessness which including sleeping on the street, couch surfing, staying at a friends place or in shelters. The term focusses on displacement of the concept of home.
  • The general public and passers by, pedestrians on the street who have a lack of empathy or understanding which can cause a negative reaction and the circulation of stigma with general discourse
  • Support workers, whose resources are stretched thin that devote their spare time to helping homeless people
  • Businesses (with charitable intentions), who despite common discourse and stigma devote a fraction of their hard owned funds to giving back to the community for the sake of the community.
  • Businesses  who on the tip side of the coin take advantage of these negative perceptions to demonstrate “their helping hand of god” to help their own reputation grow as opposed to the benefit of the homeless
  • Urban youth, who misuse language and terms within discourse further perpetuating negative stigma.
  •  Corporate bodies (fashion, technology, media) that peddle the importance of consumerism, shifting the focus off charity and onto the consumption of material goods generating a look and feel for societies to follow

 

What:

There are several boundaries to the issue of stigma towards homelessness. Linguistic terminology and identification is amongst the most damaging in terms of alienation and stigma, where through discourse terminology is used either ignorantly without an understanding of the terms roots or for the lack of empathy of the emotional impact to those affected by these terms and labels.  Barriers in linguistic can be passive as well, where discourse generates disparaging terms directly associated to those within the affected social group.

Representational barriers such as negative imagery within Television and film (predominantly serial shows and cartoons)  perpetuate existing ideas in societies who are influenced by an often inaccurate and often uncomfortable representation of people from the homeless community which subliminally and through repetition cements stigma.

Through this boundary comes a deeper psychological boundary where instinct drives an incomparable fear. These stem from the psychological where people are told that the homeless are not safe from a young age thus the idea burns on as members of society grow into adulthood. This is where people feel a sense of discomfort from behaviors, appearance or smell. Psychological boundaries also exists in  an almost Darwinian frame of thinking where people shroud the issue with a proverbial blanket rendering it invisible due to the fear that this could possibly happen to “you”  creating an ignorance barrier stemming into a Structural problem of “Us v.s Them” mentality which is further perpetuated through labelling in attempts to discuss and in a way, understand the issue.

Lack of awareness and understanding is one of the most serious barriers to this issue. As demonstrated within my examinations of articles and representation the concept of homelessness is not a considerably heated topic. Limited discussions happen within politics which means even less filters down into society. This generates a lack of empathy as people begin to “sweep under the carpet” an issue that is commonly encountered within urban environments. This barrier comes from a lack of the other three factors listed above as well as a lack of education within institutions which do not specifically highlight homelessness as an issue, rather focus on bullying as a whole.

When:

This sort of stigma happens all the time through various physical and online interactions. On the street this sort of alienation can occur in simple occurrences such as when a member of the homeless community walks passed people in public spaces and people are repelled by their smell or appearance. Stigma occurs when pedestrians walk past members of the homeless community who are sleeping on the street or who are stared at while they sleep. On the obverse, this issue occurs when homeless people are ignored when begging for money. This issue also occurs in shops and restaurants where a member of this community are refused service because they do not fit the standards of social norms. Stigma and alienation occurs (more ignorantly) online with the misuse of labels and terminology when discussing one’s own appearance or physical state and in the rarer instances when discussing those who are affected by this issue directly. Terminology such as this has seeped into social media such as twitter, where fashion bloggers detach terms such as “hobo” in the descriptions of their products.

Where:

This problem occurs in both physical and online spaces, within conversation and in print. This problem can be seen walking around densely populated urban areas where members of this community would find a higher concentration of people and resources to help them. In Sydney for example this problem often occurs along George St, in City CBD street corners where people often ignore beggars and buskers at Belmore Park where many people feel it is unsafe to walk at certain times of the night because of a small homeless camp that resides there, in fast food places where members of the homeless community go to buy a cheap meal and at train stations like Central  where many members seek warm, protected shelter. The problem occurs often in passing if either a pedestrian is walking by or a member of the homeless community, generally as indirect contact, however it can occur directly if more direct interaction is made in say for example, a conversational instance where a member of the homeless community is asking passers by for money.

This issue also occurs online in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram) as well as online forums where the continued misuse of terminology is more commonly found due to the internet’s power of invisibility where users can say what they want without fear of judgement.

Stemming from this, the problem occurs in conversation both physical and online where experiences are shared and discussed. This happens in Blogs as well such Reddit, however it can be as seemingly harmless as people discussing the latest “hobo” bag or how “hobo” they look today.

Why:
Homeless people are often denied any assistance or have compassionate gestures withheld upon first-glance because people are repelled by uncomfortable smells and disheveled, tattered appearance. This reaction is not only physical but ingrained through common discourse in which their state of homelessness is pinned to affirmation that they “fucked up” by “going down the wrong path” and therefore don’t deserve “or hard owned help”. People of the homeless community may have issues within their lives however they are still part of our community. People have enough issues in their lives and some of the members of the homeless community carry heavy cases of mental illness. On their road to finding a solution to their problem or recovery, the last thing anyone needs is to be treated like filth, teased, sneered at and judged. Through the interview conducted in one of my previous blogs the participant said they need to be able to help themselves. Through social exclusion, it is very hard for anyone to even want to help themselves. Through a simple change in attitude there is the potential of a cost free solution which will require no intervention from the Government.

Ideation

Homelessness is a blanket term used to describe a state of being homeless. It is a highly misconceived term. From the examination above I have come to the conclusion that there are several key issues that are involved with the perpetual dehumanizing and alienating stigmas towards homeless people. This includes:-

  • Resentment
  • Lack of understanding.
  • Lack of empathy.
  • Natural Instinct, where a natural discomfort occurs.
  • Ingrained negative perceptions subliminally bombarded through visual media.
  • Desensitised and passive use of language.

 

As you can read, these causes are all negative. To create effective change, it will be important to flip these perceptions and feelings into a more positive sphere to engender optimism and confidence that the solution isn’t exploiting any parties in a tense economic climate. In post 9, I will further demonstrate how I have structured my emotive foundations.

 

The problem statement

Within modern urban societies one of the largest issues faced in motivated personal problem solving associated with practical and positive life choices comes from the dehumanizing and alienating factors associated with perpetuated stigma. This is a clear case within Homeless societies across the world, who generally make clear cut attempts to create positive personal change but are knocked back by negative societal attitudes and perceptions. There is a lack of hope, and a lack of optimism generating a sizeable wedge between effective solutions and the willingness to implement these solutions.

Possibilities:-

  • A sense of inclusiveness, removing any us and them barriers by creating a positive image of the excluded society group engendering a sense of hopefulness from the target audience.
  •  A “churn in the gut” feeling to create a sense of realisation that terminology is being used incorrectly and insensitively through possibly a twitter bot that will retweet stories sourced online from homeless people to people on twitter who use the term “hobo” or “bum” distastefully.

OR

Collect the data from the twitter bot and create a mock installation room for an exhibition. The room can contain objects however every aspect of the small room must be covered in tweets that exemplify the idea of stigmatism towards homeless people or show that terminology is to being used incorrectly. This will aim to create an uncomfortable, invasive space. Outside there is to be a document compiled with sourced experiences and stories from homeless people taken from articles, blogs and forums to tie in with the experience and create a churn in the gut feeling.

  • Create a sense of empathetic understanding through immersive, empathetic experiences that may demonstrate that the state of homelessness can happen to anybody with the current global financial climate, highlighting that youth are most at risk to falling into a cyclical homeless cycle.
  •  Create a sense of understanding from non homeless people to find or contribute to a system that then engenders  either a sense of hopefulness and positivity from the homeless community, this would be done through some sort of service design or potentially a hybrid service and generative system design which would incorporate elements of both practices to come out with an outcome suited to 18-24 year olds.
  • Create a sense of frustration, irritation and loneliness by creating an empathetic experience that simulates the process of getting a spot to stay in a homeless shelter for a night.

 

Draft Proposal

Due to a lack of empathetic and knowledge based understanding instinctual precepts, stigma and alienation towards the marginalised group – the Homeless, runs rampant within contemporary urban societies. To create effective and long lasting change, these negative perceptions need to be shifted to achieve “help me to help you” attitude to ensure that members of the homeless community can retain a sense of hope to continue attempting to create their own solution.

I propose to pitch a hybrid design that crosses generative design and service design to educate both key stakeholders (non-homeless people and homeless people) within current urban spaces to perspectively achieve a depth of knowledge and a sense of hope. I would like to design a pack of Paste Ups which would feature an A1 black and white picture of an empty picture frame with space for the user to fill in with their own artwork. Included in this pack will be a carefully curated selection of stories from members of the homeless community to give the participant a greater insight into homeless life. The participant will then be asked to decorate the blank space in response to the material that has been read, send their posters back, which will be turned into a Guerrilla Poster series accompanied with Paste Up hashtags of services linked with the stories sent to the participant. The project will set up a system of conventions and steps the participants need to follow to achieve an outcome, but the outcome will rest solely in their own hands .

The project aims to create an outcome for both parties involved within this issue by taking into consideration the importance of an urban wall as a non human actor within the scope of homelessness. Brining a communal project to create hopeful, positive works to invade the often bleak and uninspiring urban spaces in which the homeless often reside (especially in Sydney). This would chef rom the power of colour on the human psyche as well as the “olive branch” metaphorical gesture these works present as an attempt by a non homeless person to make a difference to a homeless persons life.

Participants in turn, would gain better insights to what it is like to be homeless, thus creating a knowledge based empathy.This project will then aim to translate into a collaborative generative design in which the participant will be guided into creating bright, vibrant artwork to contribute to the “urban directory” of hashtags creating a positive link of contribution between both stakeholders. The final product pasted in the street, will parallel the feel of a decorated homely item and will aim to “brighten up” the bleak world of someone who is homeless weather they are on the street or are in transit from whatever shelter they may be living in. The addition of service related hashtags aims to extend a directory of options to homeless communities giving people options if their internet access is limited or if they are unsure of where to start.

Street art activism, is a youthful and creative response to various social issues that youth across the globe can get involved with and enjoy. Inspired by projects such as Kony (the idea behind it not the manipulative execution) as well as the “Anti Cancer Paste Up” campaign by J. Walter I aim to engage the ages between 18-25 to taking a less monetary approach to helping the issue of homlessness.


Young, M.  Published on Nov 12, 2015, ‘Homeless by design?”, Viewed September 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsZEXkCABCw&gt;.
Orsini,B. “The Unexpected face of Homelessness” TED x Macquarie University, Published on Dec 3 2013. Viewed in September 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w18ZuellVts&gt;