What are we talking about? The Language of Homelessness

Post 10 By Alice Stollery

Reflection & Revision

My colleagues raised a number of issues with my initial draft proposal. Being my first attempt, it was quite rough and I had not given enough consideration to the requirements of the brief.

My colleague could not see the link between my proposal and the required 18-25 year age bracket. And she was right, I had got so carried away with my research that I had lost sight of this requirement. She questioned whether this issue of language had come out of this age bracket or whether I was attempting to target 18-25 year olds with my design proposal. Reviewing this point, I will use tweets that have come out of this age bracket while contrasting their misuse of language with facts and statistics that focus on homeless youth within Australia. I also aim to target the 18-24 year old age bracket through my design proposal, by basing the exhibition at the UTS campus or other university campuses. I would like to target this age group, as I believe it is important for them to be empathetic towards this issue as they are the next generation of leaders, teachers, politicians and by starting with them, I will be able to instigate change in the future. Their views on this issue are incredibly important.

Concerns were also raised with the location or geographical nature of my data. Am I able to tell where tweets are being tweeted from and whether this issue of language is an issue that occurs within Australia. Reviewing my data, I have found that terms such as tramp or hobo are geared more towards an American context while misusing the term homeless occurs within Australia. Therefore I have narrowed my focus to the misuse of this term. I have also experienced the misuse of language in my daily life long before this assignment, throughout school, work and university. It is not unusual to hear someone describe themselves or their friends as looking homeless. However, it was not until I saw all of these comments collated on a spreadsheet of tweets that I was able to recognise language as a key barrier in solving the issue.

Another piece of useful feedback included the form of my response. I was told not to limit it to a book so I have given further thought to how this data could be represented. I have decided to create a public installation or exhibition that could possibly include posters, flyers or brochures as well. I will elaborate further on this in my proposal below.


The Issue (From research)

The misuse of language is a significant barrier in tackling homelessness. Insensitive, and politically incorrect terms such as hobo, tramp and bum, and the casual misuse of the term homeless to describe ones appearance, have seeped into the common vernacular. Dehumanising those affected by homelessness through this passive misuse of language takes away from the real issue, meaning wider perceptions of homelessness are less empathetic and communities have become detached from sufferers.

Through research into homelessness in the mainstream media, journal articles, social media platforms, image libraries and brainstorming sessions, the misuse of language and terminology around the issue has emerged as a negative actor that is creating a barrier between those in need and those with the power to help. We talk about homelessness in reference to appearance, rather than experience. In short, we no longer seem to be talking about the actual issue.


Possible Change

A design response that tackles this wider problem of perception and language will create influence rather than direct action. This will be an attempt to create internal change in those that misuse these terms, in order to create empathy, and ultimately to generate positive outcomes, enabling more people to engage with the issue rather than offering an immediate solution.


Design Action to Support Change: Data Driven Design

An exhibition titled “What are we talking about?!”  that aims to juxtapose the the misuse of the term ‘homeless’ in everyday conversation with the real issue and experience of homeless youth. Ultimately highlighting the disconnect we are currently experiencing between the two. The exhibition will be a visualisation of data collated from twitter and online statistics on youth homelessness collated during the research process. It will be a contradiction of meanings within the same issue and will highlight how language is acting as a barrier in our ability to help the homeless.

what-are-we-talking-about
Sketch of the exhibition space depicting alternative perspectives of the issue.

 

I will design the exhibition, mapping how the audience will move through the space as well as designing the look and feel for the exhibition, including collateral such as postcards and posters. The exhibition will be a series of hanging posters that enable you to see both sides of the issue. Looking in one direction you will be bombarded with the misuse of language as you see tweets that misuse the term homeless, for example “OMG I look so homeless today” or “That moment you look at a new pic of your ex and wonder how you could have dated him. #whatwasithinking #lookinghomeless” while the other side will contradict this with overwhelming statistics about youth homelessness such as “How can we still call Australia home when 32,000 young people don’t have one?” or personal experiences of sufferers such as “My friends don’t know I’m homeless”. The idea is that while you are looking in one direction at the language we use, you are unable to see the real issue  on the other side of the posters and as a result you are unable to empathise with sufferers. If you choose to talk about homelessness in this way, you are unable to be empathetic and to understand what sufferers are really going through. Visualising and organising data in this way will enable people to see both sides of the issue, one at a time and will hopefully generate internal change within the audience without publicly shaming those who have used this language in the past.