While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)

Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

People experiencing homelessness must often learn to ‘perform as homeless’ to receive the services they need, according to new UBC Okanagan research.

Researchers Dr. Shelley Cook and Dr. Rachelle Hole with UBC Okanagan’s school of social work recently published a study that attempts to gain an understanding of homeless peoples’ survival through their relationships with the system of service providers.

According to one study participant, “it is about looking homeless, but not too homeless.”

Work for the study took place in downtown Kelowna, where Cook interviewed a number of men and women experiencing homelessness, ranging in age from 23 to 55. She found, contrary to earlier research, people who live on the street depend on service providers as their main source of material and social support, not their relationships with each other.

Cook said the people she spoke with learned how to tailor their interactions to the expectations of different service providers — with a successful performance meaning the difference between being deemed appropriate for services, or not. Often over-burdened, providers sometimes have to be selective in who they choose to offer their services to.

“In a situation where need greatly outpaces the ability of the service system — where there’s only so many beds or bus tickets available — performing those representations of homelessness aligned with the service setting is all the more important,” said Cook. “It’s a necessary survival strategy that people use to increase their odds of making it on the street.”

READ MORE: B.C. nurse suspended after using Tensor bandage to trap long-term care patient in room

READ MORE: Kelowna’s new downtown campus to help alleviate UBCO’s space crunch

Hole said performances take on different expressions even between similar services. According to previous research, homeless people recognize what service providers are looking for and knowingly adapt their performance to those indicators. Study participants said service providers often encouraged them to “play up” their needs.

“The basis of performing involves presenting the appropriate level of need based on their perception of the service context,” said Hole.

While this practice does lead to increased odds of service access, Hole said the fact people feel they need to ‘perform’ in order to get appropriate services reinforces a homeless identity.

“With competition for resources contributing to the need for these performances that are in part, a side-effect of challenges related to service capacity, the problematic dynamic will persist as long as capacity issues do,” she said.

Cook said the findings are consistent with other communities, despite the fieldwork only taking place in downtown Kelowna.

“I think it’s clear that we need to think about how the policies and practices aimed at addressing homelessness may actually be contributing to people’s subjectification as a homeless person,” said Cook. “If we fail to recognize and have an appreciation for the ways in which the discourse underlying different approaches creates and reinforces this box, however inadvertently or unintentionally, we will continue to perpetuate homelessness.”

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: michael.rodriguez@kelownacapnews.com


@michaelrdrguez
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

UBC

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Chris Paulson of Burns Lake took a quick selfie with a lynx over the weekend of Feb. 20-22, 2021, after the wild cat was found eating some of his chickens. (Chris Paulson/Facebook)
VIDEO: Burns Lake man grabs lynx by scruff after chickens attacked

‘Let’s see the damage you did, buddy,’ Chris Paulson says to the wild cat

Fisheries and Oceans Canada released it's 2021 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan Feb. 19. (File photo)
Northern herring opportunities kept to a minimum

2021 management plan caps Prince Rupert fishery at 5 per cent

A collaborative genomic research project is underway to map the movements of 118 Northwest sockeye populations to better inform management decisions on at-risk stocks. (File photo)
Genomic study tracks 118 Northwest B.C. sockeye populations

Development of new tool will be used to help harvesters target healthy groups

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Most Read