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

After a routine rescue of an injured hiker, Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue noted there have been four injury rescues on well-groomed trails in recent months. (Special to The News)
Injured hiker rescued from Golden Ears park

Be prepared in the backcountry, warns Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue

Steven Powell will fix up the recovered three-wheeler and donate it. (Ronan O’Doherty/ The News)
Maple Ridge man’s stolen trike recovered

Community Safety Officers found the bike outside downtown Tim Hortons after receiving multiple tips

COVID-19. (Pixabay)
Two more Maple Ridge schools have COVID-19 exposures

Cases at Eric Langton elementary and Maple Ridge secondary

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The City of Maple Ridge is looking for public input on new playground equipment. (City of Maple Ridge/ Facebook)
City of Maple Ridge looks for public input on new playground equipment

Albion Park is getting a re-haul as part of the city’s Lifecycle Program

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

The south coast of B.C. as capture by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. (European Space Agency)
VIDEO: Images of B.C.’s south coast from space released by European Space Agency

The satellite images focus on a variety of the region’s landmarks

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A copy of the book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator’s legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children’s titles including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo,” because of insensitive and racist imagery. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published for racist images

Books affected include McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer

FILE – Oshawa Generals forward Anthony Cirelli, left, shoots and scores his team’s first goal against Kelowna Rockets goalie Jackson Whistle during second period action at the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City on Sunday, May 31, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
B.C. government approves plan in principle to allow WHL to resume in the province

League includes Kamloops Blazers, Kelowna Rockets, Prince George Cougars, Vancouver Giants, Victoria Royals

The fundraising effort to purchase 40 hectares west of Cottonwood Lake announced its success this week. Photo: Submitted
Nelson society raises $400K to save regional park from logging project

The Nelson community group has raised $400,000 to purchase 40 hectares of forest

AstraZeneca’s vaccine ready for use at the vaccination centre in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Reichel/dpa via AP
National panel advises against using Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on seniors

NACI panel said vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors ‘due to suggested superior efficacy’

Most Read