Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Images of Homelessness in Ottawa: Implications for Local Politics

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Images of Homelessness in Ottawa: Implications for Local Politics

Article excerpt

The empirical foci of this paper are a content and discourse analysis of four years (1994 to 1997) of media reporting on `homelessness' in The Ottawa Citizen, the premier, English language daily newspaper in the region. Examining these reports in juxtaposition with governmental and community-based reports from the same period bas provided useful insights into how public opinion might be influenced to regard anti-homeless laws as more or less legitimate. This paper's approach was influenced by certain regulation theorists who argue that an examination of key discourses has the potential to enhance understanding about how economic, political and social restructuring is taking place, as well to shed light on how to intervene effectively at a variety of geographic scales in shaping its key elements. The results of the media analysis suggest that very particular messages are emphasized vis-a-vis "the homeless": the `stubborn' unchanging nature of the problem, and the difficulties that housed citizens have in helping these passive, isolated, overwhelmingly white, male, substance abusers and contained (in the downtown) `others' They generally neglect or dismiss stories that might expose the demographic and geographic diversity of those who currently are homeless, and their complex and difficult past histories. When hints of such complexities are mentioned, they come with subtle messages about the deserving individuals who might be redeemed, in contrast to the hapless majority.

Keywords: homelessness, media analysis, Ottawa, Canada

Cette recherche presente une analyse du contenu des articles sur les personnes sans-abri, publies entre 1994 et 1997 dans le quotidien anglais le plus important dans la region d'Ottawa le "Ottawa Citizen". L'etude de ces articles ainsi que les rapports gouvernementaux et communautaires durant la meme periode soulevent des idees interessantes autour de l'impact que le discours public peut avoir sur l'acceptation de lois discriminatoires contre les personnes qui sont sans-abri. Le present travail est influence par certains theoriciens de la regulation qui proclament que l'analyse des discours cles dans la societe peut potentiellement ameliorer notre comprehension de la restructuration economique, politique et sociale et clarifier la maniere d'intervenir efficacement pour l'influencer. Les resultats de l'analyse des articles mediatiques suggerent que des messages particuliers sont communiques au sujet des personnes qui sont sansabri: c.-a-d, la nature invariable du probleme et les difficultes vecues par les citoyens loges, a savoir comment aider cette population qui est presentee comme passive, isolee, a predominance blanche, qui souffre de toxicomanie et qui reside dans le centre-ville. Generalement, les medias negligent l'information qui expose la grande diversite demographique et geographique des gens qui sont sans-abri ainsi que leurs histoires de vie personnelles difficiles et complexes. Quand ils mentionnent ces complexites, elles sont accompagnees de messages subtiles suggerant que seulement une minorite de l'ensemble des personnes sans abri meritent notre aide.

Mots cles: personne sans domicile fixe; analyse des medias; Ottawa, Canada

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Introduction

In examining municipal ordinances directed against people who are homeless, Don Mitchell describes a process whereby these individuals' right to be in public space is being eroded. Summarizing Waldron, he observes: "we are creating a world in which a whole class of people simply cannot be, entirely because they have no place to be" (Mitchell 1997, 311). Takahaski and Gaber's (1998, 192) analysis of perceived levels of conflict over the siting of human service and environmental facilities, comes to somewhat similar conclusions. Planning directors surveyed in 1991 identified homeless shelters as the most controversial facilities to site, followed by drug treatment centres, landfills and incinerators. …

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