Street Stories Research Project

The problem of homelessness has been growing in Canada as evidenced by homeless counts in several large Canadian cities, and the phenomenon is a major social concern for both urban and rural communities. A study carried out by the Victoria Cool Aid Society reavealed that in Victoria in 2007, a total of 1,242 individuals were identified as homeless or unstably housed, with 791 being currently homelessness. Homelessness is a manifestation of extreme poverty characterized not only by a lack of affordable housing, but by insufficient income, inadequate nutrition, compromised health and a lack of social supports. Through academic and community-based research, there is a growing body of research on the extent, causes, and consequences of homelessness in Canada.

Ending homelessness has been identified as a priority locally, provincially, and nationally. While there are a plethora of solutions proposed to end homelessness, we know little about the effectiveness of proposed solutions or strategies that will prevent homelessness. Though there is a range of housing models and programmes that purport to end homelessness, we don’t really know what works, who it works for, or why. Of particular importance are the voices of those who are homeless and are often not present or included in assessing and evaluating solutions to ending homelessness.

In Victoria, the 2007 Mayor’s Task Force on Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness, Mental Health and Addiction focused on solutions for those affected by not only homelessness but mental illness and addictions. An outcome of the Task Force was The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness with a mission to end homelessness through increased housing and social supports for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. A key feature of the Coalition is the engagement of people with direct knowledge and experience of homelessness as important voices in crafting solutions to homelessness. However, there is a need for mechanisms that respectfully and meaningfully engage people who may have fewer opportunities to participate in decision making processes. In this project, we seek to strengthen the voice of those who are homeless in order to identify and evaluate solutions to ending homelessness.

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to strengthen the capacity of the street community to inform and participate in solutions to ending homelessness

Objectives:

  1. To record and document the perspectives of the Victoria street community on current and future solutions to ending homelessness.
  2. To strengthen the capacity of the street community in documenting
  3. To analyzing and representing the voice of those experiencing homelessness.
  4. To provide insights and recommendations to policy makers on solutions to ending homelessness.

Methodology: The perspectives of those with direct knowledge and experience of homelessness both in assessment and evaluation of solutions are essential to the process of creating, implementing and monitoring real life solutions to ending homelessness. However, meaningful engagement and strategies are needed to promote an effective means of sharing expertise and knowledge. Photovoice is a participatory research process that aims to enable people to record and put forth communities strengths and concerns, promote critical dialogue on the issues through discussion of photographs and generate insights that can reach policy makers (Wang and Burris 1997).

The theoretical underpinnings of photovoice methodology have been developed by Wang and Burris (1997) and are grounded in education for critical consciousness, feminist theory, and documentary photography. This approach recognizes that people, regardless of their social status, “have an expertise and insight into their own communities and worlds that professionals and outsiders lack” (Wang and Burris 1997, p.370). Incorporation of feminist theory draws attention to gendered differences in the creation of images and knowledge. Documentary photography has been used successfully in a number of contexts including youth in schools, health education, racial discrimination and homelessness as a social conscientiousness and change through the use of visual imagery by those who often do not have the resources or access to tools and forums. The essential feature of photovoice is that people in the community create, analyze and produce visual images that contain important knowledge of their lives and the forces that shape them that is not accessible to outsiders.

This project is significant in that it will enhance capacity of the street community to participate in current initiatives aimed at ending homelessness. As well it is directly connected to community initiatives already underway to end homelessness and will create a template for future engagement of the street community in ongoing need assessment, performance monitoring, formative and summative evaluations and capacity building. Thus, external project funding will be sought for additional projects. It is anticipated that additional research questions will be identified during this initial project

We will bring together the research team consisting of university and community based researchers who collectively have knowledge and skills in community based and photovoice research, community facilitation, and documentary photography. The workplan for the project will include planning of two workshops and include strategies for engagement with the street community and decision makers. The research team will continue to meet to provide direction for the duration of the project. We will organize a workshop on camera, power and ethics for the experiential working group to enhance capacity in research and videography. A second workshop will be held following videotaping in the street community for the purpose of analyzing and selecting video clips to be included in the final 20 minute video produced in this project. Finally, the research team, in conjunction with the Coalition experiential working group, will present the video to diverse members of the community including the Greater Victoria Coalition to End homelessness, the street community, interested community groups and general public.

References

  • Victoria Cool Aid Society (2007). Homeless needs survey: Housing first-plus support. Victoria, Victoria Cool Aid Society.
  • Wang, C. and M. Burris (1997). “Photovoice: Concept, methodology and use for participatory needs assessment.” Health Education and Behavior 24(3): 369-387.