Tag Archives: homelessness

In Conclusion

I chose to build a website designed around publishing material that humanizes the homeless and street-involved community. The decision to write about the folks I work with on the downtown eastside came easily. Given the rapport that I have built with these folks who have been discounted and dehumanized by society, my perspectives and insights are both uniquely interesting and valuable. Initially, my goal was to address the public instead of a public, meaning my content was meant to create a discourse that everyone would participate in. This goal was a lofty one, almost unachievable, certainly not in the scope of 12 weeks after building up a beginner website from scratch. Throughout the scope of the course, I specified this public to Vancouver BC, where my perspectives and narratives were created, and continue to be built up and adjusted. While this is still an enormous public to be addressing, humanizing the homeless and substance-dependent communities truly requires a large-scale societal shift in which all members of the public are invested in. 

To reach this broad and diverse population I have used a number of different tactics and forms of media. I have posted education material, written personal narratives, and linked out to literature and reading material which goes into more depth than I. Each of these posts worked towards the goal of supporting and helping people in humanizing the homeless community and people who use drugs. The Venn diagram of people who use drugs and people experiencing homelessness – particularly chronic homelessness tends to be relatively plump. In terms of design choices, I tried to use photos that elicited feelings of discomfort and forced people to reflect on their role in the dehumanization of the street community. This (of course) avoided the exploitation of homeless people for sensationalist clicks and instead used art murals (pictured below).

Outside of other students enrolled in the course, my blog has gained little traction (not surprising over the course of 12 weeks). However, it is still in its early stages, and I intend to continue cultivating it. If nothing else, it is a useful tool for processing events transpiring at work, and I will keep it alive as my own “digital garden” of urban chaos and humanity.

If this website were to truly take off, and reach the eyes and minds of the general public, the value would be immeasurable. If nothing else, I would be capitalizing on the shrinking space on the internet dedicated to democratic writing, providing an important alternative to the current “two-party system” so to speak which dictates how homeless and drug-involved persons are conceptualized. I’ll expand. The dominant discourse of homelessness and addiction is often clinical, derived from research aiming to support policy to mitigate the crisis of homelessness (an important task!) Here is an example of a paper looking at homelessness from a pathological perspective. At the other end of the spectrum, homelessness is often used to sell sensationally violent or tragic stories in the media. Mental health crises and episodes of psychosis are used for shock value, to get clicks and attention from a sheltered public. This facet of discourse about homelessness is harmful, backing the public perception of the homeless community as volatile and dangerous, which fuels ostracization and stigmatization. I am choosing to not link out to any of this content. Other sensationalist stories of homelessness focus on the tragedy of the crisis, focusing on the tragic and avoidable deaths associated with living on the street. What I am providing is a third perspective, reminding people that homeless people are people just like you and me. This is not meant to dismiss the urgency of mental health emergencies, or replace the importance of clinical research. Indeed, this humanizing approach is an essential complement to dealing with the crises of homelessness and addiction. Forming relationships based on mutual respect is a precursor to providing assistance to someone in this situation.

Moving past my personal blog and towards my broader sense of self as a publisher and user of different internet spaces, this course has changed my perspective a fair bit. Moving forward, I would like to be more mindful and critical of the content I take in, how it may be affected by filter bubbles, and the impacts I have on the content others see through my engagement with content online. For example, interacting with videos exploiting homeless people (“I gave a homeless man 1000$ and followed him for 6 hours to see what he’d spend it on”) only expands the market for that kind of content. In the interest of combatting the filter bubble algorithm and of not becoming trapped in a cycle of reinforcing beliefs and views, I have begun to diversify the perspectives which fill my timelines and expand the networks from which I get my news from.

Community Guidelines

The topic of homelessness has always spurred controversy and debate – should our tax dollars go to helping those who can’t help themselves? (yes). Are we as a society obligated to help those who are not contributing to the economy? (yes). These harsh perspectives, (unfortunately) cannot be silenced – but they can be greatly reduced if we remove the opportunity to post comments anonymously. Both Konnikova and Suler agree that the freedom to post anonymously makes a poster more comfortable with posting hateful vitriol, intended to inflame and upset the reader.

Thus, while we cannot make it impossible for a poster to post anonymously (people can make burner, or “troll” accounts), we can make it more difficult, forcing people to link their opinions to their Facebook or something similar. Through this, people will still have the option to post abrasive comments, but they will have to post it alongside their faces.

Comments which foster a culture of dehumanization, and do not contribute to a healthy and respectful conversation will not be approved (comments do not appear until approved by admin).

“Were you silenT or were you silencED”

Website Progress

As we near the end of the semester, I’m reflecting on how far my website has come, and what I still want to integrate into the site in the coming weeks, beyond the end of the course.

The learning curve for WordPress was steep and frustrating at times – I remember it took me almost 5 weeks to figure out how to implement a drop-down menu for my “PUB101 section”.

The backend programming end of the website has remained a struggle, but I committed myself to accomplish the tasks set before me – the design changes, the formatting changes, and so on and so forth.

In terms of content posted on the site, I’m mostly happy with what I’ve covered, being a range of educational material (how to respond to an overdose, and a bear spray attack), and recommendations for further reading (Never Enough by Judith Grisel, Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate). I’ve touched on issues like stigmatization in the health care system, recording homeless people for internet fame, and provided links for those experiencing homelessness. I’ve shared a fair few numbers of stories about the people I get to interact with.

Something I want to discuss further is the experiences of Indigenous homeless and street-involved persons, and how their experiences differ from their white counterparts. Part of the reason why I haven’t already explored this topic is it’s an enormous topic, informed by a long history of colonial trauma, displacement, and cultural genocide. Instead of attempting to contributing my perspective to the discourse on this issue, I will amplify the lived experiences and perspectives of Indigenous peoples.

Overall, the experience of building a website has been difficult, but rewarding. Moving past the scope of this course, I will likely keep posting, if nothing else as a means by which to process what I’m exposed to at work.

Art In The Downtown Eastside

Graffiti on the downtown eastside saves lives. For a community disconnected from other sources of news and media, graffiti is regularly used to communicate vital information about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic…

… as well as the overdose epidemic. Often times graffiti alerts people to the quality of the drugs going around the neighborhood that week, often accompanied with messages to not use alone, and to carry Narcan.

The murals are also often used as a form of mourning for specific loved ones as well as the community broadly speaking. Publicizing the impacts of the overdose epidemic serves as an important reminder to the general public of the ongoing epidemic, and reminds people that the homeless and street-involved community are not to be ignored.

Lastly, the murals can be used to advocate for the rights of homeless folks, and drum up political and social motivation surrounding these issues.

After all – is there any more humane quality than creating art from pain?

Transmedia Integration

Breaking up a block of text with images or videos is integral to maintain a readers’ interest in your blog post. As discussed in Kevin, Britteny and Lauren’s blog post on transmedia storytelling, using different mechanisms and platforms to communicate your ideas make your thoughts accessible to a broader network of people. In the listed example, authors discuss the broad range of media used by the Pokemon franchise, spanning collectible and playable cards, movies, TV shows, videogames, apps, and collectible merchandise. This range of means by which to participate in the public surrounding the Pokemon universe is one of the reasons why the franchise is so successful.

This can be integrated on a smaller scale to improve accessibility and boost retention on my website. It would be interesting to incorporate Emily’s idea to mirror the “Humans of New York” concept, and include photos of the people whose stories I am telling. However, this isn’t possible in terms of my residents as it goes against the company policy. I could interview people who aren’t my residents and listen to their stories, but I have a much more trusting relationship with the people I work with and see on a regular basis.

Instead of including photos of people I could include photos of the environment (the streets of the downtown eastside), the art in the community, and the buildings. The art of the downtown eastside is humanizing in and of itself – what is more human than creating art out of suffering?

Response to Peer Review

Emily Sweeney reviewed my website this week and gave me some excellent feedback to think about. I in particular appreciated her feedback about the public I am creating and the audience I am trying to reach with my website. As Michael Warner writes in his essay Publics and Counterpublics, a public is different than the public. Through my website I was trying to address the entire public – the entire internet. Emily pointed out that it may be more effective to target a public, like women, previously homeless folks, or Vancouverites.

I do often have a tendency to “bite off more than I can chew”, trying to address all aspects and perspectives on an issue in an 800 word essay, or address the entire general public with a website. Even knowing this rationally, I am too stubborn to narrow down my population too much (to just women, or to just previously homeless folks). However, narrowing the scope of my blog to just Vancouver is a good compromise between me and the rest of the world.

To change the blog to make it more centred on Vancouver, I will make a few small tweaks in presentation and wording, and the majority of the photos I use will of Vancouver, covering the homeless epidemic locally instead of province- or nation-wide, or globally.

Old Tagline “Our aim is to humanize the dehumanized”
Updated Tagline “Humanizing the Dehumanized in Vancouver, British Colombia”

I’ll also change the tags in each post to put more emphasis on Vancouver, instead of homelessness broadly speaking, and change the “About Me” section of my blog to establish the locale of the blog.

Updated “About Me” Section
Old “About Me” Section