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  1. 1. Social/Personal Information Behavior of the Homeless
  2. 2. What is homelessness? <ul><li>The generally accepted definition of homelessness comes from the Stewart B. McKinney Act of 1994: </li></ul><ul><li>A person is considered homeless who &quot;lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence; and... has a primary night time residency that is: (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations... (B) An institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.&quot; </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Though it is difficult to generate accurate counts of homeless individuals, due in part to the transitional nature of the condition, here are some recent numbers of note: </li></ul><ul><li>A recent study by USA Today estimated 1.6 million people unduplicated persons were using transitional housing or emergency shelters.  Of these people, approximately 1/3 are members of households with children, a nine percent increase since 2007. * </li></ul><ul><li>Another approximation by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year.* </li></ul>*http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets Homelessness by the numbers
  4. 4. Homelessness by the numbers Sheltered homeless population: 42% African-American 38 % white 20%Hispanic 4 % Native American 2 % Asian  Families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population In 2003, children under the age of 18 accounted for 39% of the homeless population; 42% of these children were under the age of five 40% of homeless men have served in the armed forces (compared to 34% of the general adult population) The average age of homeless parents is 27-29 years old Almost 2/3 have completed high school or equivalent Persons with severe mental illness represent about 26% of all sheltered homeless persons . Compared to the homeless of the past, today's homeless are: Younger Have more formal education Include more females Include more families (fastest growing population)
  5. 5. What’s causing homelessness? <ul><li>Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty.  </li></ul><ul><li>The recent foreclosure crisis has resulted in an increase in homelessness in many cities. </li></ul><ul><li>According to the National Council on Homelessness, the factors contributing to the increase in homelessness as a social problem include: </li></ul><ul><li>Higher Foreclosure Rates </li></ul><ul><li>Increased Poverty </li></ul><ul><li>Eroding Work Opportunities </li></ul><ul><li>Decline in Public Assistance </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of Affordable Housing </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of Affordable Health Care </li></ul><ul><li>Substance Abuse, Domestic Violence, Family Disintegration </li></ul><ul><li>Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill </li></ul><ul><li>Cost of Living Exceeding a Minimum Wage </li></ul><ul><li>Gentrification in Urban Areas. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Dr. Julie Hersberger <ul><li>Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro </li></ul><ul><li>Specializes in information seeking in everyday contexts, with a focus on the information needs, information seeking and information use by varied populations of homeless people. </li></ul><ul><li>Much of her work is based on Dervin’s taxonomy for evaluating average citizen information needs, which incorporates the idea that individuals want to control their own life environments and that information is critical for that control. </li></ul><ul><li>Her studies on homeless populations are built on the notion that people will use information to overcome their homelessness situation. </li></ul>
  7. 7. In her studies on homeless parents, Hersberger identified nine primary Areas of Information Need in everyday life: Social/Personal Information Needs of Homeless Families <ul><li>Finances </li></ul><ul><li>Child care and relationships </li></ul><ul><li>Housing </li></ul><ul><li>Health </li></ul><ul><li>Employment </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul><ul><li>Transportation </li></ul><ul><li>Public Assistance </li></ul><ul><li>Shelter </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>Social capital refers to investing in social relationships with an expected return on one's investment for the purpose of gaining new resources or maintaining existing resources. </li></ul>Hersberger offers six questions that underpin her research on homelessness and social networks. Social Capital, Networking, and Everyday Needs <ul><li>What forms of social capital exist within the social support networks of homeless parents ? </li></ul><ul><li>How is social capital embedded in the social relations of homeless parents? </li></ul><ul><li>For which situations do homeless parents utilize their social support networks to access different forms of social capital ? </li></ul><ul><li>What forms of social support , particularly informational, are needed, sought, obtained and used by homeless parents? </li></ul><ul><li>What catalysts exist which motivate homeless parents to attempt to gain or gather informational social support? </li></ul><ul><li>What impediments or barriers exist that discourage homeless parents in this process ? </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>Forms of social capital are primarily embedded in relations with social service staff, and focus primarily on access to information, tangible resources and emotional support that can improve current conditions of living for these homeless families. </li></ul><ul><li>Individuals with whom homeless parents invest in social relations primarily comprise shelter staff, social services staff, physicians, church support staff, other shelter residents and bail bondsmen. </li></ul>Social Capital, Networking, and Everyday Needs <ul><li>Hersberger explored the notion of hybrid ties , which goes beyond the “strong” or “weak” tie designations. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Shelter and social service staff, who are typically thought of as weak ties, were often placed by homeless parents in the category of friends, a strong tie designation, because their information- sharing and support was perceived as “caring.” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Homeless parents utilize their networks and social capital in order to: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Find permanent, stable housing; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Help their children (health and education, etc.); </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Find a job; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Repair bad credit histories; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Deal with substance abuse and domestic violence. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>Much of the information seeking behavior of Hersberger’s subjects were tied to interpersonal sources (formal and informal) rather than information media-based, and therefore social network analysis was an important approach in her studies. </li></ul><ul><li>Homeless parents were also found to focus primarily on ties that were current, close and in physical proximity . Those who held needed information, but geographically distant, were not seen as legitimate resource or information supports. </li></ul><ul><li>The social/information networks of many homeless persons are often very small , thus limiting the everyday opportunity for social connections and information sharing. Many often limited their social interactions in order to discourage negative influence of others. </li></ul>Social Capital, Networking, and Everyday Needs
  11. 11. <ul><li>Many homeless have used up their social capital and support with family and friends, and may be cautious about building new networks. </li></ul><ul><li>Expected reciprocity was not always thought to be a prerequisite to social capital. If there was a pressing need, the information was pursued whether or not there was a guarantee of return on investment. </li></ul><ul><li>Homeless parents identified information as essential to improving their conditions of daily life. They valued accurate, comprehensive, timely information, that could yield quick results. </li></ul><ul><li>Homeless parents preferred one-on-one, in person interaction when seeking information, with a written record of the exchange. Whether they were getting the full attention of the information provider was important, and thus, telephone communication was less desirable than in person communication. </li></ul>Social Capital, Networking, and Everyday Needs
  12. 12. <ul><li>Proposition 1 : People who are defined as information poor perceive themselves to be devoid of any sources that might help them. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Homeless shelter residents felt they had access to plenty of information, in fact some felt overwhelmed by the amount of information provided by shelter staff. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Proposition 2: Information poverty is partially associated with class distinction, with privileged access to information withheld by outsiders </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Those who had been homeless before felt they “knew the system” and were thus insiders, while those new to homelessness felt like outsiders and often thought shelter staff may be withholding information or playing favorites within the shelter. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Proposition 3 : Information poverty is determined by self-protective behaviors, used in response to social norms. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Many residents volunteered information readily if it meant they could receive necessary resources, and many were accustomed to revealing information about themselves as they traveled through the social services system. However, some did invoke self protective behaviors, complaining about other residents nosing into their affairs. </li></ul></ul>Chatman’s Theory of Information Poverty established four key concepts: secrecy, deception, risk-taking, and situational relevance , all of which may be used as self-protective behaviors in information-seeking. She offered six resulting propositions, through which Hersberger examined the homeless individuals in her study. Homelessness and Chatman’s Theories
  13. 13. <ul><li>Proposition 4: Both secrecy and deception are self-protecting mechanisms due to a sense of mistrust regarding the interest or ability of others to provide useful information. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Secrecy and deception was seldom employed when interacting with those providing information and services that were needed. Deception was more likely when individuals attempted to gain resources for which they were not eligible. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Proposition 5 : A decision to risk exposure about our true problems is often not taken due to a perception that negative consequences outweigh benefits. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For problems involving housing, employment, and child health care, risk was not considered. Subjects were less willing to engage in information sharing about substance abuse, legal issues, bad credit, etc. Subjects were also more willing to share information with resource providers than other shelter residents. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Proposition 6: New knowledge will be selectively introduced into the information world of poor people, and this is influenced by the relevance of that information to one’s everyday problems. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>When approached about the use of the Internet as a networking tool (and thus “new knowledge”), many didn’t see the Internet as having information relevant to their pressing daily needs of housing, daycare, and poverty. Thus, they didn’t feel that they were lacking by not having access to the Internet. </li></ul></ul>Homelessness and Chatman’s Theories
  14. 14. <ul><li>In Hersberger’s studies, homeless parents decided to seek information based on they type of need they had. Needing information that would benefit their children, for example, often led parents to ask for information of outsiders, than information for themselves. </li></ul><ul><li>Previous experiences with poverty, housing, employment, and child care influenced whether they felt they were insiders or outsiders. While some did not report themselves as being information poor, others stated they wouldn’t even know what to ask in order to get help. </li></ul><ul><li>Homeless parents also seldom thought in terms of consulting formal information systems (libraries or databases) for information they needed. They spoke primarily of social networks made up of close ties family and friends and weak ties to social services providers. </li></ul><ul><li>Some who were more experienced at being homeless knew where to look for information, while others simply ignored any sources from outside. </li></ul>Homelessness and Chatman’s Theories In Chatham’s theory on Insiders vs. Outsiders , “Insiders” neglect to accept sources of information not created by themselves or those close to them (“Outsiders”), thus reinforcing information poverty. Chatman’s theory of Life in the Round posits that in a small world, members decide what is important and which sources can be trusted, and they will not cross the information of their world unless the need is critical.
  15. 15. The Homeless and Information Professionals <ul><li>Information professionals can operate as weak ties for homeless individuals, serving as a bridge to social and information networks that may assist them in improving their condition. </li></ul><ul><li>Establishing partnerships with social service agencies, advocacy groups, and businesses serving the homeless can facilitate a relationship that would allow information professionals to be seen as allies. </li></ul><ul><li>The use of gatekeepers may be one way to overcome the barriers that may exist between the perceived “insider” and “outsider groups. </li></ul><ul><li>Performing a community needs assessment can help identify the pressing needs of the local homeless population. </li></ul><ul><li>Making resources easily accessible and available for individuals who may be apprehensive about asking for help can aid them in reaching the information they need. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Social Media Initiatives <ul><li>wearevisible.com </li></ul><ul><li>This website, started by former homeless visionary Mark Horvath, offers homeless individuals a chance to connect with each other and the resources around them. </li></ul><ul><li>Videos show how to set up a blog, as well as Gmail/Twitter/Facebook accounts. </li></ul><ul><li>People can share their stories, find other homeless near them, and locate companies that can offer help getting back on their feet. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Social Media Initiatives <ul><li>underheardinnewyork.com </li></ul><ul><li>This site aims to connect individuals via social media, beginning by following the progress of four individuals, Danny, Derrick, Albert, & Carlos. </li></ul><ul><li>Each was provided with a cell phone, a month of unlimited text messaging and a Twitter account, through which they can share their thoughts and experiences of homelessness in New York City. </li></ul><ul><li>The initiative’s goal is to develop an active and supportive community around the tweeters and demonstrate the possibilities social networking can offer in improving the condition of the homeless. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Other Online Initiatives www.ibiblio.org/rcip/abouthomelessinfo.html Website offering a myriad of information resources for homeless person, homeless advocates and librarians.
  19. 19. <ul><li>Brennan was a Boston man who had dabbled in writing throughout his life before finding himself homeless due to heroin addiction. When he decided he wanted to become a full time freelance writer , he spent his days at the Boston Public Library (as well as the computer lab at Harvard) honing his craft. </li></ul><ul><li>The culmination of his work was the 1992 book “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned at the Library.” </li></ul><ul><li>The well-received book related Brennan’s experiences as a patron at the BPL, including the reactions of patrons of his presence in the library, as well as his own reactions to the homeless once he was no longer homeless. He noted that one of the most crucial elements of his recovery was being treated with respect and compassion. </li></ul><ul><li>Brennan went on to be an active community volunteer and entrepreneur, creating the Wreath Project in Portland, a self-help work project that recruited ex-offenders and homeless and mentally ill people to make and sell holiday wreaths, before his death in 1999. </li></ul>Libraries and the Homeless … two success stories…. Michael Brennan
  20. 20. <ul><li>Johnson was featured in a 1997 article that chronicled his depression and attempted suicide. </li></ul><ul><li>Following a breakup and job loss, Johnson left his home in Norfolk, VA and spent his last $18 on a bus to Philadelphia. After a failed suicide attempt and six months in a homeless shelter, Johnson began going to the Free Library of Philadelphia, where a librarian helped him find books on investing and self help. </li></ul><ul><li>With the help of these books and the librarian’s participation , Johnson regained his will to live and went on to become a successful salesman, homeowner and family man. </li></ul>Libraries and the Homeless ...two success stories... Johnny Jay Johnson