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.
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.
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.
Collaboratively brainstorming and mind mapping possible design responses had it’s own set of strengths and weakness. As a group, we spent 10 minutes on each person, first listening to their problem statement and then collectively coming up with ideas for possible solutions or responses. Each person was responsible for documenting their own issue, taking note of ideas they thought had value.
As I have learnt in previous group work and blog posts throughout the semester, this process provided me with a good basic understanding of possible directions my design response could take. I found it to be a good starting point, as the ideas that came out of this session were quite vague and needed further individual development. The ideas from this session end up sparking thoughts and tangents in my mind that enabled me to think of responses I may not have come up with on my own. The process definitely helped when I sat down on my own at home to further refine the ideas and to draft a proposal. As a result the task seemed less daunting.
There were however, a number of weaknesses within the process. As four out of five members of the group had a very similar focus area, it became difficult to continually generate new ideas on the same topic over and over again. The quality and detail in the ideas seem to reduce as we moved around the group. There were also times where there was not a lot of idea generation happening. I think, overall, as a group, we put too much pressure on ourselves to come up with complete and clearly defined responses. Therefore there were times when we had nothing to say, unable to articulate a complete response. In hindsight, we should have been a bit more playful and relaxed with the process, which may have generated more creative responses.
The Misuse of Language: A Mind Map of Ideas
Below I have included the mind map I generated while the group discussed possible responses to my issue of terminology and the misuse of language. As you can see there are a number of tangents and areas that do not make a lot of sense. I have noted some points down that are not exactly design responses but points I found interesting during the process that I thought could possibly inform my direction at a later stage.
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. 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 empathy, engagement and as a result generate positive outcomes, enabling more people to engage with the issue rather than offering an immediate solution.
In recent weeks, through research into homelessness in the mainstream media, journal articles, social media platforms, image libraries and brainstorming sessions, this misuse of language 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.
With this in mind, I recently took part in a group brainstorming session to generate possibilities for a design response for this problem of language and its misuse. The process created a good basis of ideas for further individual development and enable me to articulate both my problem statement as well as how I want my design response to make my audience feel. I would like to generate feelings of compassion, empathy, and respect towards the homeless, so my audience can realise,reflect and become purposeful. Below, I have listed 5 design responses that came out of this session..
Five point summary of possible design responses
Intervention: To intervene when the misuse of the term homeless or its derogatory counterparts, hobo, tramp or bum are used online. This would be in the form of a twitter bot that responds to such tweets, highlighting the misuse by either providing a link to information on the issue, providing personal stories of those affected or by simply pointing out their lack of empathy. However, this type of response would not have the desired affect on the target audience and I do not think it would generate a sense of empathy towards sufferers. I do not want to create a design response that is self-righteous and that could be seen as shaming a person’s lack of empathy towards the issue.
A Dictionary of Homelessness: A dictionary of alternate meanings that fade in and out. This would be based on the various meanings that homelessness takes in everyday language such as a lack of money, poor appearance etc. It is an interesting concept I would like to look into, as it is still quite vague at this stage. Another possibility could be to juxtapose the misuse of language with images or information on the real issue. For example, I may take a tweet that states “OMG I look so homeless today” with an image of a homeless person and their story. This juxtaposition of alternate meanings would make those misusing this language feel uncomfortable with their flippant or casual use of these terms without directly pointing the finger at individuals.
Mapping the relationship between language and sufferers: This would aim to visualise the relationship between our misuse of language and the number of suffers in a particular area. I would map the use of terms such as hobo, bum and tramp by geographical location while also mapping the numbers of homeless people in those areas to see if there is any correlation between language and homelessness numbers. For example the term hobo may be used more so in Sydney than Melbourne and it would be interesting to see if homelessness numbers were higher in Sydney due to this casual lack of empathy and resulting desensitisation.
My name is..: this response would be a data visualisation or geo visualisation of those suffering from homelessness categorised by first name. It is a known fact that we all like to hear our own name and this could be a way to overcome this desensitisation and stigma and to create familiarity. This response would aim to create connections between sufferers and non sufferers, highlighting things they may have in common. It would attempt to change the way we talk about people experiencing homelessness. As the misuse of the word homeless has diluted its meaning and emotional impact, calling homeless people by name would change our perspective of them, make them more relatable and hopefully generate more empathy towards them. This map would aim to humanise them through the use of their first name. For example, the map may depict that there are 100 Simone’s in the 18-24 year old age bracket that are currently suffering from homelessness. This creates a personal connection and enables people to think about the issue from a more empathetic angle. Suddenly they are able to see that those suffering from homelessness are just like them.
I saw a homeless man today and felt…: This response would take the form of a data visualisation. I would survey a number of people to ascertain their feelings when they see a homeless person. I would then organise this information to communicate relationships and to ascertain how the youth of today feel towards homelessness. This could be conducted in the pedestrian tunnel at Central Station, as there are a number of homeless people in this area and a high volume of foot traffic in the 18 to 24 year old age bracket. Once students have walked past a homeless person, I could ask them how they felt when they saw the homeless person. This could generate interesting results however I am not sure how it would tackle the wider issue of perception beyond simply highlighting the presence of stigma.
What are we talking about?! Draft Proposal, Visualisation
Twitter is a social platform that allows dissemination of random thoughts, ignorance and public opinion. With 313 million active global users recording and sharing their thoughts, feelings and experiences, twitter is a real-time source of information and a perfect tool for researching public opinion and scraping the platform for data.
It was through this scraping of data that I first became aware of the magnitude of the misuse of language around homelessness. During my previous web scraping blog post, I found over 10,000 posts that contained the word hobo alone.
Through this design response I aim to create a play on words, juxtaposing the different meanings of language used around this issue. This idea is based on point two above, The Dictionary of Homelessness. The design response will highlight the alternative meanings of the word ‘homeless’ through the juxtaposition of the ways in which they are used. For example.. stories of the homeless and their daily struggle may be juxtaposed with tweets stating that a celebrity looks like a hobo. This type of response would be like the urban dictionary vs the oxford dictionary, highlighting how the word homeless has evolved overtime, changing the meaning and resulting in desensitisation.
Collaborative issue mapping was an opportunity to expand my understanding of the issue of homelessness. My initial maps in post three were very detailed but also covered the entire issue, therefore there were areas that could still be broken down further. Co-creating maps enabled me to further interrogate areas of the issues that were less detailed or lacking on my initial map. It gave me the opportunity to step back and to discuss other perspectives of the issue with members of my group. This helped me to break down areas that I was stuck on. I found some exercises were more insightful than others. There were times when the group lacked knowledge in particular areas which meant there was less discussion and engagement. However, on the flip side, there were other tasks that everyone contributed to, expanding our understanding exponentially. Having to articulate what I meant by the inclusion of certain actors also helped to solidify my own understanding.
Each task offered interesting and sometimes unexpected insights. Writing key words surrounding the issue was particularly beneficial. We decided that going through the alphabet and brainstorming key words for each letter together was very effective and as a group came up with around 200 words. Here you can see how the brainpower of 5 people makes for greater results than if I was at home completing the same task on my own.
Next we each chose 5 words that stood out to us. It was interesting narrowing these down and it highlighted the negative nature of the language we use to discuss the issue. This was something I had not really considered before. It was quite depressing to see these negative words collated in one place. I was particularly intrigued by ‘former-self’ and felt that a design approach that focused on the lives of the homeless before they were stuck by homelessness may be key to ridding them of stigma.
Moving on, we organised these words into an emotive – factual scale. In the image below, factual words are seen at the top and more emotive words are at the bottom. This made us realise that the words surrounding the issue are no longer very emotive. The language and words we have used in our posts thus far are overused and the words often do not evoke emotion.
We then began writing antonyms of these words and the results were particularly insightful. Of course the antonyms were mostly positive words and when reading over them, I felt that these words could offer possible solutions to the problem. Suddenly, out of this overwhelmingly negative issue came words like; surrounded, acknowledged, visible, equality, clean, reinstated, facts, safe and understood. Perhaps these words were a skeleton for a solution. Highlighting what needs to change to move forward.
As a group, we also created a more detailed map of stakeholders and their level of power in relation to homelessness. This expanded my knowledge in this area as my mapping of power in post three is very basic. Adding our key words to this map allowed us to see where particular words may stem from. For example desensitisation appeared quite a lot around the most powerful end of the map as this was connected with the media and government. Where as words such as survival appeared closer towards the bottom of the scale and the least powerful stakeholders.
From here we moved onto controversies within homelessness. This process was not smooth sailing and we had some conflicting views within certain areas and sometimes did not agree that particular areas could be considered controversies. Having multiple viewpoints at times took more brain power in attempting to organise information and account for differing views.
Mapping the controversies as a group was a good starting point, however I felt I needed to remap these myself to visualise my own understanding and to organise the information in a way that made sense to me. I wanted to break down each area to ensure I understood the controversy within it and the associated feelings. So below I have done a small remap.
Finally, we then chose a particular controversy and broke it down into stakeholders. In this task it was helpful having multiple perspectives as it added further layers, enabling us to go into further detail, breaking down the general terms we had previously used. We began doing location, however then decided on technology so I have created my own map of the stakeholders of location as I thought that was particularly interesting. The words underlined in red are the non human stakeholders and those that are not underlined are human. Surprisingly, there were far more non human stakeholders within the area of location.
Overall, collaboration and co creating issue maps was a valuable process that expanded our understanding of homelessness as well as providing support in breaking down the paralysing complexity of it. Working with peers meant that we were producing more work at a faster rate and as a result a greater overview of the issue, as well as greater detail of the stakeholders involved. We saw similar emerging ideas within the group and could thus recognise prominent themes within our research. We also challenged each others ideas and inevitably, our own. However while working as a group provided these benefits, I felt that it was still necessary to process issues and exercises individually after class to ensure my own understanding. This process of collaboration has informed my approach as there were a number of very interesting insights and perspectives that have come out of it.
Key insights include:
The negative nature of the language we use to describe the issue and the possible affects of using positive language as a solution
The notion of the ‘former-self’ the design response could focus on the former-selves of people before they were affected by homelessness in an attempt to rid them of stigma.
More emotive language needs to be used in the discussion of the topic as a number of words have been so over used that they no longer foster any kind of emotional response.
Mapping the power structure within homelessness revealed that the possibility for change may lie with those most powerful. ie the media and the government. Perhaps they could be a source of data.
Reflecting on the process and findings, it has come to light that the way in which we talk about the issue is incredibly important. Perhaps the issue needs to be approached or framed with a positive outlook.
“A positive attitude will lead to a positive outcome”
A possible response could be through promoting the people behind homelessness, delving into the lives they had before homelessness intersected with their lives. I could also look into using software to regenerate news articles, replacing all negative words with their antonyms, as this process for me was incredibly eye opening. These ideas are quite vague at the moment and I am not able to articulate effectively at this stage, however the collaborative process will certainly inform my approach to designing for change.
Twitter has become both a social and professional platform allowing dissemination of anything from random thoughts, ignorance and pointless memes to breaking news and public opinion. With 313 million active global users recording and sharing their thoughts, feelings and experiences, twitter is a real-time source of information and has become a medium in which people can keep up with those they know and those they don’t. The 140-character limitation on posts makes it a perfect tool for researching public opinion and scraping the platform for data, without being overwhelmed.
Web Scraping Process
Twitter archiver was my main source when scraping the web, as it allows you to create a search rule and, unlike other tools such as twitter advanced search or facebook, it collates the results into a single excel spreadsheet. This feature became invaluable in gaining insights from the results as it allowed me to sift through the information using specific terms, further refining my results. Insights often came as a result of tangents, originating in previous search results.
Not being a twitter user myself, I stumbled at the start. I created a twitter account and downloaded twitter archiver and linked it to my gmail account. Initially, I ran searches that were very specific, in an attempt to find information on stereotyping and the technological divide within homelessness. I set the location to Sydney, however, this failed as I did not receive a single result. So, I changed the location and widened the search to Australia. Again, I was being too specific with the number of words I was using and twitter archiver came back with nothing.
I then decided to change my approach and create a simple search of ‘homeless’ and ‘stereotyping’ which produced 14, 931 results. I then used the search tool to search for key words from the group issue mapping class within the data set. This helped me to break down the vast amount of information and to see what people were saying about issues within homelessness. This became a very interesting process. The initial words I searched within the results were quite basic as I was still getting use to using the software. However, they still provided insights and I have listed the most frequent words below.
Interestingly, homeless men were referred to 4,279 times compared to only 251 times for homeless women. This is in line with the statistics revealed through one of my earlier posts that stated 82% of Sydney’s homeless are male and only 17% are female. As these posts were not Sydney specific, it is interesting to see that these statistics may also be a good indication of the situation in other parts of the world. I am curious as to why the numbers of homelessness between sexes differs so significantly. And can begin to understand why previous sources outlined a lack of services tailored to homeless women. I can only assume that this is due to less demand for them..? I could look further into the specific causes of male homelessness, contrast it to female homelessness and see if there is an opportunity to intervene with my design response.
Another observation was that the word ‘help’ only appeared in 1,137 posts out of 15,000. Looking further into these posts I found, ‘help’ took different forms. Some were genuine posts about helping the homeless with information of individuals lending a hand or community projects. It was really interesting to see how others were approaching and tackling the issue on a personal level.
Other twitter users made genuine offers help. In his case twitter was used as a form of communication to reach people in a particular area to help assist in helping those in need. This highlighted the possibility of technological responses that act as a connection between those with something to offer and those in need. Service design could bridge the gap between say, small businesses with food or accomodation available and the homeless.
While each of the above insights were interesting, perhaps the most interesting insight was not only the presence of stigma in these posts but stigma as a result of the frequent misuse of the word homeless. While there were 15,000 posts that included the word homeless, I found that more often than not people were using it as part of casual conversation, to describe their lack of dress sense or effort invested in the appearance of friends or celebrities.
It seems that, no matter how hard I try to broaden my understanding of the issue, I always seem to arrive back at stigma, perceptions of the homeless and ignorance towards their circumstances.After seeing these tweets, I decided to look into how the misuse of language is hindering our ability to tackle homelessness. As a result, I then ran a search on the term hobo to understand how often it was being used within the twitter sphere. This search found 10,732 results with the term hobo included in it.
“RT @emmaabel_: I am going to try and make myself look decent tmmr and not like a hobo”
“@Lizbeth_923: First Date And I Look Like A Hobo 🙂”
I believe the ubiquitous misuse of language surrounding homelessness is dehumanising the homeless, and ultimately, taking away from the issue. This is not only present in social conversations and personal online interactions, but is also reinforced by the fashion industry as seen below with the release of the ‘hobo’ bag.
Shockingly, the term hobo is also being used as a design response to the issue, evident in the iHobo app. The virtual pet app that puts a homeless person in your pocket for you to feed and take care of. Forget to feed your hobo and he dies or runs off to get drugs. I think using gaming to tackle peoples perceptions is an interesting idea but I can’t help but feel this approach is distasteful, to say the least, and is reinforcing the publics stereotypical and often negative perceptions on the issue, not to mention dehumanising those in need.
To further investigate this area, I could also try searching the term ‘tramp’ and other common names used to describe the homeless. The above tweets highlight a severe lack of empathy among the general population for those suffering from homelessness. Homelessness does not seem to be a topic that people are talking passionately about. The homeless have fallen by the wayside and we are all so desensitised to the issue that homelessness has become commonplace in daily language for all the wrong reasons.
Design responses could enable change in this area, and I would like to focus on the role language plays in the issue. I think there are already a number of individuals and NGO’s working to directly help the homeless so I would like to instead create a design response that tackles the wider issue and aims to influence the views people have of the homeless. Tackling this wider problem of perception, assumptions and language would aim to influence the common vernacular rather than direct action on a smaller scale. This would hopefully result in a knock on effect, creating empathy and engagement among the wider population, to ultimately generate positive outcomes on a wider scale.
In terms of it’s form, I could create a twitter bot that calls people out on their misuse of particular words. However I think this would breed hostility rather than empathy. Language will be an important element and in order to generate a feeling of empathy I think the design would be suited to a poetic response that encompasses feelings and a the contradiction of meanings.
In an attempt to reveal relationships between language and the the number of homeless people, I could visualise the frequency of misuse of vital words. Perhaps I could plot the locations of these misuses and correlate this data with the number of homeless people in that particular area to see the relationships between the two and to discover how local attitudes affect the issue. However I am hesitant to do that as I do not think data will generate an empathetic response in the way that I am hoping.
Five Point Summary
Twitter and twitter archiver are both very effective tools in scraping the web for data to understand how the wider population are feeling towards homelessness.
It is important to remain open to outcomes outside your initial understanding. I went into this process with a focus on stigma and the technological divide, yet ended up delving further into the role language plays in creating barriers to a solution.
Those offering food, services or accommodation on a personal level have great difficulty in finding the right people to help. Perhaps a service could be designed to bridge this disconnect.
More often that not, conversation around homelessness is not referring to the issue at all and is used more so in casual conversation to describe appearances. The misuse of homeless terminology is rife among the online community and has seeped into the common vernacular ultimately resulting in a lack of empathy towards sufferers.
Homelessness does not seem to be a topic that people are talking passionately about. The homeless have fallen by the wayside and we are all so desensitised to the issue that homelessness has become commonplace in daily language for all the wrong reasons.
EWapo. 2014, ‘I’m playing a game called iHobo where you look after a tramp and I’m legit checking up on him every 5 minutes, I’m here for you trampy’, Twitter post, 10 January, viewed 3 September 2016,<https://twitter.com/EWapo/status/421761288617091072>.
Stigma and stereotyping have been recurring issues in secondary sources and the mainstream media throughout my research into homelessness. The societal shift towards technological dependence has also raised a number of concerns for those on the streets, as we create a digital divide, further marginalising the homeless.
With these positions in mind, I recently interviewed a university student to understand the relevance of these issues among the 18-24 year old age bracket. The primary objective of the interview process was to understand their attitudes towards the homeless and their circumstances, and to identify where stereotypes may have influenced their views and behaviours. By conducting an interview and establishing a design probe, I also hoped to ascertain the interviewees dependence on technology, such as their mobile phone and the internet, to ultimately identify areas where access to technology is a necessity for this age group. This would hopefully, in turn, allow me to understand where technology is failing the homeless, and in particular, homeless youth. My interview questions were limited and the interview was conducted more as a conversation to ensure the interviewee was relaxed and open in their response to the questions.
Throughout the interview process, I found that stereotypes were present in both their definition of homelessness as well as the perceived causes of homelessness. Interestingly, the invisible homeless were not accounted for within this person’s definition.
“Someone who doesn’t have a physical home to go to and a physical space to keep personal belongings. Those that are detached from society.”
This simplified definition of homelessness exposed the shallow understanding many people have of the issue. The invisible homeless do not enter our thoughts and we do not consider that the homeless may well be active members of society, working or studying full time, yet living out of the boot of their car or sleeping on a friends couch. By describing homelessness in this way, we almost detach ourselves from it, thinking that homelessness affects those that make poor life choices or who come from difficult backgrounds.
This simplified definition of homelessness may also be due to my lack of interview skills and the time frame in which the interview was conducted. Perhaps with more time and more probing, the interviewee could have established a more comprehensive understanding and definition of the issue. To improve for next time, I would perhaps break down this question into multiple questions as it is difficult to provide a complete overview of a complex issue in a single answer.
Feelings towards helping the homeless
The interview was also used to ascertain the interviewee’s feelings towards helping those in need. Seeing the numbers of people, myself included, walk past the homeless each day, I have always thought that a possible solution could sit within the actions of the passers by. I wanted to know the reasons why people chose not to help them, whether it was a case of not knowing how or whether there was less desire to help them due to a lack of empathy as a result of desensitisation or stigma. The interviewee stated that she was aware of the homeless, yet did not take much notice of them. Confirming the latter of my hypothesis. When walking past them, she realised that she pays more attention to their belongings and the items they keep, rather than focusing on them or their situation. She did not have any particular feelings when seeing them and due to this lack of empathy for them, felt that she had been desensitised to the issue.
Perceived causes of homelessness
When asked, the interviewee attributed the causes of homelessness to unfortunate circumstances and financial difficulty such as keeping up with rent or mortgage payments. She stated that she was aware that a number of homeless people had jobs and in this situation contributed possible causes to reckless or irresponsible spending and differing priorities from those not affected by homelessness. When asked if she had ever considered helping the homeless and if so what barriers she faced or what stopped her from doing so, she stated that not knowing how to help them played a large role in her reasons for choosing not to help them.
“When I walk past, of course I consider helping them but I don’t now how to help without contributing to the problem. Not knowing their situation and how to help them is the biggest barrier.”
This implies that people would be more willing to help or donate to the homeless if they were aware of the circumstances that lead them to be homeless. When asked about the challenges the homeless face, the interviewee listed social stigma and overcoming societies perception of them. I was intrigued by the fact that the interviewee was aware enough of this stigma to list it as a challenge yet not enough to challenge her own views of them.
The role of technology
Moving onto the role technology plays in her life, I asked the interviewee what daily challenges she might face if she did not have access to a mobile or internet technology. These included, waking up on time for commitments as she uses the alarm on her phone, emergencies, lack of ability to contact and stay in touch with friends and family and limited or no access to her uni work or online resources needed to complete her degree.
As the answer to this question did not give a comprehensive insight into the necessity of technology within her life, I asked the interviewee to complete a design probe over the course of the following week.
She was asked to document the role her mobile or internet plays in her life, including her fundamental and vital uses of technology during that period. Whenever she relied on her mobile or internet for work, socialising or emergencies,to name a few, she was asked to take note and record them. In designing this task, I hoped to identify situations when she would not have been able to complete the task without mobile or Internet technology.
The design probe results have been visualised above. They depict that for the 18-24 age bracket, mobile and internet technology are primarily used to maintain relationships with friends and family as throughout the week the interviewee spent 4.5 hours on Instagram, 3 hours on Facebook, 1.5 hours checking her email, 15 minutes looking up transport timetables and 1 hour making important phone calls. I was quite surprised by these results as they differed from my expectations. I would have placed more importance on calls or transport information rather than instagram, however this may be due to the particular week in which the design probe was completed.
These results are a good introduction to the issue, however, I would need to interview a number of participants in order to gauge an accurate indication of the primary uses of technology within this age bracket. As the interviewee also pointed out, this just so happened to be a week where she did not need to make any emergency phone calls, and other important phone calls were kept to a minimum.
Five Key Insights
The role of technology in the lives of youth may differ considerably from older age brackets, with significance placed on maintaining relationships and social connections through social media. Youth also do not make a lot of phone calls, which places more importance on online interaction.
I found that stereotypes were present in both the interviewees definition of homelessness as well as the perceived causes of homelessness as the invisible homeless were not considered within their definition of the issue.
There is evidence of a shallow understanding of the complexity of homelessness as well as an indifference towards those suffering form homelessness. This issue is not at the forefront of peoples minds and due to desensitisation and stigma surrounding their circumstances, people may not have empathy towards those suffering from homelessness.
People are less likely to help the homeless without knowing their background or situation. The causes of homelessness from a youths perspective include unfortunate circumstances and financial difficulty such as keeping up with rent or mortgage payments, reckless or irresponsible spending and differing priorities from those not affected by homelessness.
Social stigma and overcoming societies perception of them is considered a barrier for the homeless to overcome.
Homelessness is both complex and perplexing, evident in my attempts to map the issue. Unless framing the issue from a particular perspective, it is difficult to grasp just how many actors are involved in the issue. There are a number of different people and groups that are both affected by homelessness and that can affect homelessness and all of them seem to be intertwined with each other. Before completing this mapping exercise, I knew that homelessness was a complex issue with a number of contributing factors, however, I never quite understood just how many stakeholders were involved. Below I have started to map out the issue. First I began by breaking the stake holders down into human and non human and I was surprised to find that there were more non human stakeholders than human.
In the stage 2 map below, I have taken the information from above and tried to categorise it and organise the stakeholders into groups which share the same values, or fall into a similar area of the issue.
In the stage 3 map, I have attempted at mapping the power of each stakeholder to work out who I would consider the most and least powerful when it comes to tackling the issue of homelessness. In this map I have simplified the stakeholders into the groups I would consider the key stakeholders.
An Image Archive of Homelessness
Could you please help?
We are all guilty of walking straight past a homeless person without so much as a look in their direction. This photograph forces us to pause for a moment and really see them. It is a clear depiction of the invisibility of the homeless and represents the often unnoticed loneliness and suffering they experience. Each day, thousands of people pass by them, distracted by their own lives. While this photograph does not represent the complexity of the issue, it serves as a stark reminder of their suffering. It highlights how society has become desensitised to the plight of the homeless. Although not represented in the photograph, it forces the viewer to question how thousands of people can walk by without helping this man. It raises the issue of stigma and the barriers that stigma and stereotyping are creating in our ability to help those in need. Research into this topic has delved into the issues faced by the homeless, such as lack of access to technology, as well as food insecurity. However this photograph emphasises their plight without delving into any great detail. Why is it that we are more moved by a photograph such as this, than we are seeing the homeless on the street during our daily lives?
The Hidden & Invisible
This sleeping glass figure is a UK based art project that aims to raise awareness of both the invisibility of the homeless as well as the growing number of hidden homeless. The issue of the hidden homeless was something that was touched on in a number of articles that I have read. There are many homeless youth couch surfing or staying with friends or living out of their car. Youth that may not be sleeping rough on the streets but who still do not have a safe and secure place to call home. This art piece draws our attention to those we see on the streets yet take no notice of.. Yet also has a double meaning, representing those we do not see, that sleep on the couches of friends and in the boots of their cars.
Acknowledged was a free exhibition held in 2013 at the State Library in Sydney. It consisted of the many faces of the homeless population, and included both their name and moving story, taking them out of a homeless context and painting them in a new light. The exhibition aims to raise their self esteem, photographing them in a way that changes their perception of themselves as well as the publics perception of them. This photograph focuses on the people at the centre of the issue, it differs from the sources I have read as it starts at a fundamental level, however, it is also very similar as it aims to break down the stigma that surrounds the homeless.
Who? Where? Why? Homelessness in Sydney
This image is an info graphic that outlines the how’s and why’s of homelessness in Sydney. It states that 516 rough sleepers were surveyed, of which, 82% were male, 17% were female and 1% were transgender. I have not come across statistics like these in my research so far, and I am curious to look into why there is such an imbalance in the sexes. Another interesting fact is the amount of time these people have been homeless, with the average being 5 years and 4 months. When I see a homeless person on the street, I have surprisingly never stopped to think how long they might have been there. Reasons behind their homelessness include; emotional, physical and sexual trauma, mental health issues, substance abuse or a combination of these issues. In terms of income, 100% of them live on less than $400 per week and 13% have no income to speak of.
Do Something for Nothing
This image shows a compassionate approach to the issue. Without prying into their lives or backstories and without truely understanding the nature of their circumstances, this barber helps the homeless to feel better about themselves. It is a simple yet effective approach to the issue and the beginning of the ‘Do something for nothing’ movement. This representation differs from those I have read in text sources as it seems free from bias or agenda and is rather, a genuine act of kindness.
Opposite ends of the Wealth Spectrum
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been photographed here with a Melbourne based homeless man. The image depicts the two opposite ends of the wealth spectrum, with Turnbull in an expensive suit and shiny shoes crouching down, why Kent is sitting on the pavement in a tracksuit with a McDonalds coffee and unkept hair.
You’ve Crossed Paths with Homelessness
This photograph merges homelessness and technology, exposing the issue through an iphone and a dating app. The dating app Happn is a location based app that notifies you when you have crossed paths with someone who also has the app installed. However, the happn team have now enabled the homeless to share their stories through the platform. When a user passes a homeless person, the app notifies them of their story. It is another example of how people are attempting to break down the barriers between the homeless and the wider public, ridding them of stigma and allowing us all to help those in need.
Youth Homelessness Matters
This Youth Homelessness poster focuses on the statistics surrounding homeless youth in Australia. It states that 42% of the homeless population in Australia are under the age of 25 with 26,000 falling into the 12-25 age bracket. Family violence, child abuse or family breakdown account for the causes of homelessness in 70% of homeless youth and couch surfing is generally the first stage of homelessness experienced by youth. When compared to text sources, this poster is very general, and focuses on a particular group affected by the issue. It is more of a general overview of the situation and aims to raise awareness of the situation without delving too far into it.
Mapping Jasmine’s Journey
This image is a visual map of a young girls journey into homelessness. It highlights how easily youth can find themselves homeless and counteracts the misconceptions that the wider public may hold around the circumstances of these peoples lives. Homelessness can happen to anyone and all it takes is a number of unfortunate events and lack of support and you could find yourself homeless.
The Couch Project
Homelessness is framed in this photograph from a different angle than many textual sources I have read. Without the text overlaid, the viewer may not even recognise this as an image of homelessness. It challenges our pre conceived ideas on the issue as the girl featured in this image does not fit within the stereotype that has become evident through my research. She has a roof over her head, clothing and what we may assume as a safe place to sleep. Yet, she is part of the the youth homelessness statistics included in the fact sheet above.
Disruptive media is a design studio based in Melbourne that collaborates with community-focused organisations such as not-for-profits and community services, to tackle social issues across a number of different sectors. They recently teamed up withInfoxchange, a not-for-profit social enterprise specialising in creative technological solutions for social change. Disruptive Media and Infoxchange collaborated to create the app Ask Izzy, a health, welfare and community services directory that bridges the gap between support services and those affected by or at risk of homelessness. It makes these services more accessible “empowering people to take control, easily find location-based services, and get the support they need” (Disruptive Media). The app was launched in January of this year and its success was evident within the first month, with over 31,000 people using it to access essential services. Not only does Ask Izzy act as an essential tool in providing shelter and support to the homeless, but it will also inform government choices about future investments through the anonymous data collected from the app and website. This data will enable them to determine the demand for particular services.
Disruptive media worked on naming and branding the app, while Infoxchange focused on the app’s development along side Google, REA Group and News corp. The project was a result of a Google Grant received by Infoxchange and stemmed from a directory of homelessness that they had already created called ‘service seeker’. Ask Izzy is essentially a rebranding and repositioning of this directory, using insights gained from research, making it more accessible and putting it in the hands of those in need.
To achieve this, the above organisations worked closely together with people experiencing homelessness and those working to provide support to them, to understand the issues they face on a daily basis. This project falls within an emergent practice context as it is a form of service design. The issue they discovered, this disconnect between the homeless and service providers, came out of a number of ethnographic research methods conducted by the organisations. The foundation of their design strategy was to have a comprehensive understanding of the issues faced by people experiencing homelessness. They conducted these ethnographic studies to both identify the issue of accessibility of services and to gain critical insights that directly informed their design decisions.
The workshops they held, found that avoiding common stereotypes was an important consideration within the branding. Stereotyping is a recurring theme throughout my research and it is interesting to see how it has also played an important role within a design context. The workshops highlighted the ease at which people can find themselves homeless. The fact that homelessness can affect anyone, meant that the name and branding of the app needed to appeal to a wide audience, including those who may not fit into the stereotypical view of homelessness, or interestingly, those who do not consider themselves homeless. Had the branding been directly associated with homeless services, those who do not consider themselves homeless, such as couch surfers, would be less likely to use the app, hindering them from accessing essential support services due to stigma. As a result, research identified that the name should rather be friendly and approachable. Thus, ‘Ask Izzy’ was chosen, as it rids the app, and users, of the stigma associated with the label ‘homeless’.
Through my initial research in the mainstream media, (although not included in my first blog post), I noticed a disconnect between those affected by homelessness and the services designed to help them. I thought it would be interesting to look into why this disconnect occurs, whether it is a conscious choice not to use the services or an inability to access them. Throughout my secondary research into scholarly articles I began to understand the role technology plays in the lives of the homeless and I was surprised to learn that 95% of homeless people own a mobile handset. So it’s really interesting to see how this design studio have uncovered these insights through researching the issue, connecting the two to create a technological solution to the problem. It was thought-provoking to learn through Disruptive Media’s research, that a number of homeless people do not use these services as they do not consider themselves homeless. I was not aware of this and had not considered framing the issue in this way. I would be interested in further investigating how services are being designed for people who fall within this category. Perhaps reframing how we approach those who do not consider themselves homeless could work as a preventative measure or early intervention to decrease the numbers of those who find themselves with no where left to go.
Justine Humphry is a Lecturer of Cultural and Social Analysis at the University of Western Sydney and has highlighted the technological discrimination or ‘digital divide’ experienced by the homeless through her in depth study of the issue. Surprisingly, the study found that mobile ownership was not the problem, with 95% of participants owning a mobile handset. However, the homeless still face a number of barriers and digital challenges, such as, lack of security and replacing stolen handsets, affording credit to maintain the service, and lack of ability to recharge the battery. Due to this technological shift, alternative forms of communication such as public pay phones have also drastically decreased, creating further barriers for the homeless. Barriers continue to be built as digital gateways become commonplace in government services. With the inability to access these technologies, the homeless become further marginalised.
Reliable access to these technologies would assist the homeless in finding accommodation and employment, gaining new skills, maintaining personal and professional relationships and in contacting support and emergency services, acting as vital tools in assisting them out of homelessness. When compared to mainstream media articles from last week, this author has conducted a very credible and detailed investigation into the issue. All claims within the article are supported rather than hearsay, and with agendas aside, the article has been written for the sake of research and investigation. I think this is an incredibly interesting position on the issue and her research has uncovered some very surprising results. I would like to further investigate the role technology plays in the lives of the homeless and see what other studies have been conducted in this area.
Published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, this peer-reviewed article explores an alternative position on the issue of homeless youth. The authors, a number of expert health professionals, explore the issue of food insecurity and the eating patterns of young people affected by homelessness. The study found that due to reliance on food relief services homeless youth were not meeting recommended servings of major food groups, such as fruit, vegetables, breads and cereals. Healthy food items are often more expensive meaning homeless youth consume high levels of processed, sugary foods and drinks. The study highlighted the inadequate food access for homeless youth and the associated stress, anxiety and persistent hunger they currently suffer.
Adolescents have high nutritional needs and inadequate nutrition for this particular age bracket will affect growth and development and their ability to maintain an active life. This is a large problem considering half of all homeless people in Australia are under the age of 25. The article underlined the need to improve food access and quality for homeless youth and acknowledged that specialist services currently lack the required training to meet their nutritional needs. Once youth have been provided with shelter, food insecurity persists as they are living independently from a young age without the adequate life skills to care for themselves. Greater support is also required in this area.
Humphry, J. 2014, ‘The importance of circumstance: digital access and affordability for people experiencing homelessness’, Australian Journal of Telecommunications and the Digital Economy, vol. 2, no. 3.
Crawford, B., Yamazaki, R., Franke, E., Amanatidis, S., Ravulo, J. & Torvaldsen, S. 2015, ‘Is something better than nothing? Food insecurity and eating patterns of young people experiencing homelessness’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, vol. 39, pp. 350-54
Homelessness and social exclusion have been framed in the mainstream media according to a number of different agendas, many of which appear opinion based with little or no reference to factual sources of information. However, they do raise a number of issues and positions that I am very interested in investigating further.
The article is reporting on an event that aims to raise money for the homeless, however it offers little information on the issue. The reader is left questioning just how wealthy CEO’s sleeping under the roof of carriageworks in polar fleece jackets, with access to their iPhones, has any relevance to those truly affected by homelessness.For me, this article exposes corporate agendas, as CEO’s attempt to paint the corporate sector in a positive light, using homelessness as the tool to do so. These journalists have little knowledge of the issue, evident in their lack of reference to any kind of statistics or credible research. This article is editorial and the author’s approach does not sit well with me. It offers little value, raising awareness of the good deeds of large corporations rather than the plight of the homeless or their experiences. When compared to articles written by not-for-profits, or those more invested in the issue, it’s easy to see that there’s not a lot to take away from this piece of writing.
The Not-for-profit Approach
Father Chris Riley, an Australian Roman Catholic Priest and CEO of ‘Youth Off The Streets’ recently wrote an article for the Blue Mountains Gazette titled ‘Think of the Homeless this week’. This article aims to raise awareness for those doing it tough on the streets and was published on the 1st August to coincide with the beginning of ‘Homelessness Week’. The author belongs to a not-for-profit organisation and is motivated by his desire to help those in need, as he has worked with disadvantaged youth for more than 25 years. Due to his extensive experience, I would say that Chris Riley has a very good understanding of the issue, however it is hard for me to say that this article is completely factual, as it provides statistics without stating where they have come from. Father Riley highlights the need for increased access to vital emergency services for homeless youth, as one in five homeless people are turned away when seeking emergency accommodation. The article seems factual and I agree with this authors position as I believe this article has a strong focus on the issue and has been written by an author that has a clear understanding of what is required to help those in need. This is contrasted to the Australian article, which was written by a young journalist and focused more on the experience of the CEO’s without raising awareness of the experiences of those affected by homelessness.
Homelessness on the rise, are escalating property prices to blame?
An article published in March 2016 on news.com.au titled ‘Homelessness at record high in Sydney’ focuses on the rising issue of homelessness in a local context due to increased property prices. The particular author of this article has not been published and I can only assume they belong to the AAP. This article seems to be written from the perspective of Clover Moore, the Lord Mayor of Sydney. The author has interviewed Ms. Moore and attributes the rise in homelessness to escalating rents and property prices forcing people onto the streets. Ms. Moore claims that the housing crisis in Sydney is putting pressure on families, as they struggle to pay rising rents and mortgages. This position is opinion based and the article is not factual. Ms. Moore claims that the number of homeless people in Sydney would decrease if state and federal governments provided social and affordable housing with support services. I agree that this is definitely part of the issue, however, this article does not offer a comprehensive view of the issues surrounding homelessness or housing in Sydney. Without knowing whom the author is, it is difficult to ascertain how much they really know about the issue. The article is not well researched and offers an over simplified view of the issue with an unsupported view of how to solve it.
Elitist views and homeless stereotyping
In February 2016, the Daily Telegraph published an article titled ‘Locals concerned about homeless Shireen camping in ritzy Paddington but there’s no plan to move her on’. The article was written by Nick Hansen, a journalist for the Wentworth Courier and reveals the elitist view that many Sydney siders have of the homeless. Reading the first half of the title, readers may be excused for thinking that Paddington residents are concerned for the homeless woman’s welfare, however, continuing on, it becomes clear that they are more concerned about maintaining the clean appearance of their multi-million dollar suburb. However, the article does highlight the lack of appropriate services provided for women in her situation. The author is not considered an expert on the issue and has not written about homelessness before, so I would say that the article is editorial in nature. Having being written by an Eastern Suburbs resident, the views expressed in this article and the framing of the issue is slightly biased. Although I disagree with the author’s position, I do think the article raises some interesting points that I would like to investigate further, such as the services currently being offered for homeless women and the perceptions and stereotypes hindering the general public from helping people in Shireen’s position.
Challenging stereotypes to work towards a solution
‘Joseph Wales ‘igloo’ shelter in Point Piper has neighbours worried, but he’s not moving.’ This was the title of an article published by Robbie Patterson in the Daily Telegraph in August 2015 covering the same issue as above, from a slightly different angle. Robbie Patterson is a journalist for The Daily Telegraph and would not be considered an expert, having never reported on the issue before. The motivation behind writing this article was the attitudes of the Point Piper residents and again, as we saw with Shireen, the supposed risk the homeless man posed to the community. However, the author has framed this issue of the elitist views of these residents by interviewing the homeless man in question, rather than the residents concerned for the area. Clearly demonstrating what little danger he poses to the community. I share this author’s position on the issue, as he has subtly highlighted the elitist views of the eastern suburbs residents and their stereotypical views of the homeless stating that ‘being homeless is not an offence’. Joseph Wales and Shireen’s stories have really struck a chord with me. Millions of people walk straight passed the homeless each day, we choose to look the other way or justify not helping them with stereotypes such as ‘they’re all criminals’ or ‘they’re lazy’ or ‘they just waste the money on drugs’. Perhaps challenging these stereotypes could bring us closer to a solution. I would like to look further into whether studies have been done in this area.
Critical positions on the issue
From my initial research of online secondary sources published in the media, I have discovered a number of different stakeholders and their approaches to the issue. From what I can see, the corporate approach seems to over simplify the issue, focusing largely on money and tailoring the issue to their agendas. I would like to look further into corporate framing of the issue. From my research I have uncovered a number of other positions that I believe are worth investigating further.I would like to investigate what appropriate services are offered for homeless women as one of the articles claimed that the city lacked services in this area. I would also like to investigate “The invisible visibles” and public perception of the homeless in Sydney and how stereotyping the homeless is creating a blockade in our ability to help them. I was shocked to read about the elitist attitude towards homeless people in the Eastern Suburbs and would like to look further into cases such as these and research on the topic.
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