Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Seeking Judgment Free Spaces: Poverty, Leisure, and Social Inclusion

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Seeking Judgment Free Spaces: Poverty, Leisure, and Social Inclusion

Article excerpt

Over the last 20 years, we have seen the proliferation of poverty and homelessness in North America. Poverty is found in urban and rural areas and in affluent regions; no community is immune (Lee, 2000; Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture & Forestry, 2006). With the recent economic crises, poverty rates are growing, and news reports detailing "mortgage foreclosures, the squalid state of much social housing, and the growing ranks of those living on the streets are finally becoming topics of mainstream discussion" (Mair & Trussell, in press). At the same time, similar to other Western countries, in the last two decades social support programs in Canada were restructured - moving from welfare to work programs and shifting the onus of responsibility from social institutions to individual citizens (Chouinard & Crooks; Coulter, 2009; Gazso, 2007). Given the dramatic shifts in governance and support systems affecting those living in poverty, and the recent economic crises that have characterized the early twenty-first century, there is no better time to try to understand the impacts of these changes as well as to consider how they might be addressed.

Despite the growing prevalence of homelessness in North American society, relatively little research to date in the field of leisure studies has focused on those individuals and families who are homeless or are struggling to maintain a stable living environment. Notable exceptions are studies by Klitzing (2003; 2004), Dawson and Harrington (1996), and Tirone (2003/2004). Nonetheless, it is important to explore leisure's potential role in helping to address what Mills (1959) called "private troubles" and "public issues."

While leisure experiences may not solve the social ills of poverty and homelessness, they may help contribute to a higher quality of life. The Canadian Council on Social Development (a non-profit social policy and research organization) argued that access to recreation programming, particularly for youth, may be a fundamental component of addressing some of the challenges presented by living in poverty (CCSD, 2001). Yet those working in the field of poverty and homelessness would do well to pay even greater attention to our field and to see the role leisure can play in the lives of those experiencing these challenges. For instance, Klitzing's (2003; 2004) work showed leisure as a coping mechanism to help alleviate stress caused by poverty and homelessness. Tirone (2003/2004) revealed how recreation "reduced the level of stress ... and helped [low-income] people to raise their level of skills" (p. 164). Dawson and Harrington (1996; see also Dawson, 2000) suggested leisure has a role to play in helping individuals who are homeless stave-off the effects of being increasingly marginalized. Leisure, in its very best sense, becomes a vehicle, a strategy for helping people link in to social life and can aid the goal of inclusion.

Therefore, the purpose of our study was to examine and understand the experiences and meanings of leisure for individuals living in poverty and who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. More specifically, we wanted to explore the role of community service organizations in these individuals' lives, and to assess how they can be more relevant and responsive to the needs of people who are socially marginalized. Thus, we followed Lee (2000) in seeking out the perspectives of recent immigrants, non-permanent residents, visible minorities, persons with disabilities, lone-parent families, women and single individuals as they are more likely to experience poverty (see also Townson, 2000; Wallis & Kwok, 2008).

Our project was situated in the Region of Waterloo, an area in southern Ontario, Canada with a population of approximately 533,700 people (Region of Waterloo, 2009). The Region of Waterloo, made up of three urban municipalities and four rural townships, has a blend of manufacturing, service, agricultural, and high tech industries and is considered to be a relatively prosperous area. …

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