Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Finding a Place to Belong: The Role of Social Inclusion in the Lives of Homeless Men

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Finding a Place to Belong: The Role of Social Inclusion in the Lives of Homeless Men

Article excerpt

Homelessness signifies the absence of a major marker of identity in Western society. The absence of a home poses great threats to social supports and relationships as individuals become geographically distant from customary sources of community and social support (Pleace, 1998; Solarz & Bogat, 1990). As a result of impoverished social support networks individuals who are homeless have limited practical and emotional support available to them, and accordingly feelings of social isolation, social discomfort, alienation, and marginality are not uncommon among this population (Boydell, Goering, & Morrell-Bellai, 2000). Consequently, to be homeless is to exist on the outside--on the margins of the social body. The experience of homelessness can be understood as a radical disruption in the understanding of self. Individuals who find themselves in discrediting situations, such as becoming homeless, can experience "a crumbling away of their former self-images without simultaneous development of equally valued ones" (Charmaz, 1983, p. 168). The continual loss of former self-images through stigmatization, the loss of objects and meanings that once constituted their social worlds, as well as changes in the nature of their social relations and interactions leads to diminished self-esteem, a loss of self-identity and concept of self (Charmaz, 1983).

One of the most salient features of resistance to the homeless' exclusion and stigmatization is their use of "identity talk" as a means to reconstruct personal identities. "Identity work" includes activities people engage in to "create, present, and sustain personal identities that are congruent with and supportive of their self-concept" (Snow & Anderson, 1987, p. 1338). Identity work requires having a sense of control or agency over physical settings, arrangement of personal appearance, and associations with selective groups and individuals. Identity work precludes the participation of individuals who are homeless who seldom have the financial, social or logistical support to participate in such activities. Instead, it is through their conversations, and stories that the homeless are able to "construct, assert, and maintain their desired personal identities" (Snow & Anderson, 1987, p. 1338). Juhila (2004) associates forms of identity talk with "talking back," understood as a practice whereby individuals take a critical position towards their "given" stigmatized identity. She defines talking back as "consisting of acts which comment on and resist the stigmatized identities related to culturally dominant categorizations and which have the function of presenting the difference between oneself or a group and the dominant definition" (p. 263). Difference characterized between groups need not be defined negatively. Talking back and identity talk are both part of a larger process of identity politics that deals with the struggles over categories. Identity politics is not based on fixed categories, but rather emphasize the positive meanings of difference (Juhila, 2004).

Literature Review

Despite the explicit connections between structural transformations and the rise in homelessness there has been little effort aimed at resolving homelessness in relation to the social structures contributing to social and economic inequalities (Lyon-Callo, 2000). Instead, homelessness has become a medicalized social problem whereby both the causes and the solutions are to be found within the individual (Lyon-Callo, 2000; Pleace, 1998; Snow, Anderson, & Koegel, 1994). The individual pathologies attributed to the homeless include: physical and mental illnesses, substance abuse, lack of education, childhood abuse or neglect, impoverished social networks, and deviant and criminal behavior (Anderson, 1997; Benzies, Rutherford, Walsh, Nelson, & Rook, 2008; Snow, Anderson, & Koegel, 1994; Walsh, Rutherford, & Kuzmak, 2009). However, these explanations hold serious fallacies as they fail to correlate these pathologies with larger structural forces such as racial and class discrimination (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 2004). …

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