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.