Working Homeless Men in Calgary, Canada: Hegemony and Identity

By Persaud, Steven; McIntyre, Lynn et al. | Human Organization, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Working Homeless Men in Calgary, Canada: Hegemony and Identity


Persaud, Steven, McIntyre, Lynn, Milaney, Katrina, Human Organization


This purpose of this research is to understand how young adult homeless working men experience homelessness in an oil boom and prosperous city, Calgary, Alberta. Following a period of participant observation, five purposively selected working homeless men aged 20-28 years participated in in-depth individual interviews, which were initiated around their daily food routine. We found that the men experienced moderate to severe food insecurity and reported negative physical health effects, including weight loss, related to their inability to acquire sufficient food to meet work demands. The interviews led to other findings: the men accepted full responsibility for their homelessness, internalized hegemonic ideologies of self-blame, and praised Calgary as a "great city," in dissonance with their experience of discrimination and privation. The working homeless men also negotiated their identity through unspoken honour rules and through the construction of an informal system of resources and social networks. Although service providers were described as abundant, the men did not claim any meaningful interactions with them. Our findings suggest that efforts to address homelessness need to consider food needs related to accessible and adequate nutrition for sustaining work but also the ways in which working homeless men see themselves and view their homelessness as they navigate their day-to-day survival.

Key words: homelessness; men; young adult; Calgary; food insecurity

Introduction

The purpose of this study was to explicate the daily lived experiences of young adult homeless working men in Calgary, Alberta. We wanted to understand from them how they accessed and acquired food in order to examine how these processes uncover how these men cope with homelessness, the impacts and effectiveness of the social and service supports available to them, and ultimately how these processes influence their sense of self. A qualitative study with young adult homeless working men in Calgary, Alberta Canada provides a unique opportunity to examine this phenomenon as Calgary's homeless population has grown substantially in the last several years, despite boasting one of the strongest economies in the world (Calgary Economic Development 2009; Calgary Homeless Foundation 2007).

More specifically, two approaches inform our inquiry: the lived experience and food provisioning. The lived experience is a key viewpoint of qualitative research and refers to a person's unique perspective on their daily experiences and how their social and cultural worlds are reflected therein (DeVault 1 99 1 ; Smith 1 987). Food provisioning comprises the acquisition, preparation, and consumption of food that draws upon personal, family, and community resources and supports (Marshall 1 995 ; Whitehead 1 984). As an ongoing, daily task, food provisioning is a unique lens through which one can explore an individual's lived experience (Silverman 2006).

Through learning about the daily lived experiences of young homeless men in Calgary, we intend to argue that food provisioning in its own right is an important phenomenon for study but several other considerations emerge. Attitudes and beliefs about homeless men and women continue to be rooted in hegemonic ideas that the homeless lack self-reliance and independence. Experiences of homelessness and how men cope on a daily basis reveal an internalization of these hegemonic beliefs and show how social networks, access to services, and unspoken honour rules impact the ways in which men self-identify.

For the purposes of this study we draw upon the 1999 Canadian parliamentary report on homelessness and focus on the cyclically homeless, or those, "who have lost their dwelling as a result of some change in their situation, such as loss of a job, a move, a prison term or a hospital stay" (Begin et al. 1999). The Calgary homeless population is not dissimilar to other large urban centres. The majority are predominantly male, white, and between 25-44 years old (Streik 2008). …

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