The generally accepted definition of homelessness comes from the Stewart B. McKinney Act of 1994:
A person is considered homeless who "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."
How many are homeless? 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: A recent study by USA Today estimated 1.6 million people unduplicated persons used transitional housing or emergency shelters. Of these people, approximately 1/3 are members of households with children, a nine percent increase since 2007. * 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.* *http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets
Who is homeless? 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
Since 1980, homelessness re-emerged as a social problem caused by a lack of affordable housing, the breakup of families and domestic violence, deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, a decrease in the availability of sleeping-room-only (SRO) facilities and the gentrification of urban areas, cutbacks in government aid to the poor, a loss of manufacturing jobs, unemployment and underemployment where the cost of living exceeds the minimum wage rate, and problems with substance abuse. Chronic problems with drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, and family dysfunction continue to contribute to the steady presence of the homeless in society. What’s causing homelessness? 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. The recent foreclosure crisis has resulted in an increase in homelessness in many cities. NCH – Foreclosure, Poverty, Eroding Work Opportunities, Decline in public assistance, lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable health care, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness
Dr. Julie Hersberger
Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
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
Much of her work is based on Dervin’s taxonomy for evaluating average citizen information needs, which concluded in part that individuals want to control their own life environments and that information is critical for that control.
Her studies on homeless populations are built on the notion that people will use information to overcome their homelessness situation.
In her studies on homeless parents, Hersberger identified nine primary Areas of Information Need in everyday life
Child care and relationships
Social/Personal Information Needs of Homeless Families
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.
What forms of social capital exist within the social support networks of homeless parents (structurally embedded information)?
How is social capital embedded in the social relations of homeless parents (information opportunity)?
For which situations do homeless parents utilize their social support networks to access different forms of social capital (action-oriented information use)?
What forms of social support, particularly informational, are needed, sought, obtained and used by homeless parents?
What catalysts exist which motivate homeless parents to attempt to gain or gather informational social support?
What impediments or barriers exist that discourage homeless parents in this process?
Hersberger offers six questions that underpin her research on homelessness and social networks (inf transfer article). Homelessness, Social Capital and Information Behavior
Homeless parents utilize their networks and social capital in order to
Find permanent, stable housing;
Help their children (health and education, etc.);
Find a job;
Repair bad credit histories;
Deal with substance abuse and domestic violence.
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
Individuals with whom homeless parents invest in social relations primarily comprise shelter staff, Department of Social Services staff, physicians, church support staff, other shelter residents and bail bondsmen.
Homelessness, Social Capital and Information Behavior (or Networking to Meet Everyday Needs)
[THE RESEARCHERS] explored the notion of hybrid ties , rather than the normal strong or weak tie designations.
Sheleter and social service staff, who traditionally are thought of as weak ties, were often placed by homeless parents in the category of friends, which is a strong tie deisgnation. Staff was placed in this category because their help was perceived as “caring.”
In Hersberger’s study, social capital and informational support were found to be accessed via physically close network contacts. Social service staff who provide information, resources or other support in a caring and timely manner are considered strong ties and akin to family or friends, and the amount of help homeless parents anticipate receiving from social service are accessed according to the physical proximity of network contacts.
Expected reciprocity was not always thought to be a prerequisite to acquiring social capital. If there was a pressing need, the information was pursued whether or not there was a guarantee of return on investment.
Homeless parents identified information as essential to improving their conditions of daily life. They valued accurate, comprehensive, timely information, that could yield quick results.
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.
Homelessness, Social Capital and Information Behavior
Homeless parents were found in general to rely more on information networking rather than information systems.
The social/information networks of many homeless persons are very small, which limits the everyday opportunity for social connections and information sharing.
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.
The homeless often limit their social interactions in order to discourage negative influence of others, thus reducing their information network.
Others have used up their existing social capital and social support with family and friends who are no longer willing or able to provide temporary housing, money, food or other resources.
With past safety nets now gone, individuals are sometimes cautious about rebuilding a new network.
Homelessness, Social Capital and Information Behavior
Homeless parents were also found to focus primarily on ties that were current, close and in physical proximity . Those holding information but geographically distant were not seen as legitimate resource or information supports.
Homeless and Information Poverty
Proposition 1: People who are defined as information poor perceive themslves to be devoid of any sources that might help them.
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.
Proposition 2: Information poverty is partially associated with class distinction, with privileged access to information withheld by outsiders
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 staff may be witholding information or playing favorites within the shelter.
Proposition 3: Information poverty is determined by self-protective behaviors, used in response to social norms.
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.
Chatman’s Theory of Information Poverty offered four key concepts that result in an impoverished life: Secrecy, deception, risk-taking, and situational relevance, all of which may be used as self-protective behaviors. From this she generate six propositions, often used in examining marginalized groups.
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.
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.
Proposition 5: A decision to risk exposure about our true problems is often not taken due to a perception that negative consequences outweigh benefits.
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.
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.
As many didn’t see the Internet as having information relevant to their pressing daily needs of housing, daycare, and poverty, they didn’t feel that they were lacking by not having access to the Internet.
Homeless and Information Poverty
The following information poverty theory propositions were confirmed:
employment of self-protective behavior was identified;
secrecy and deception were invoked;
risk of exposure or negative consequences were perceived;
acceptance of new knowledge based on the perception of relevance to the everyday is also apparent.
Propositions not supported :
a perception exists of being devoid of helpful resources;
class distinction plays a partial role, with outsiders holding privileged access to information (some informants considered themselves information insiders).
Homeless and Information Poverty
Homeless as Insiders/Outsiders In Chatham’s theory on Insiders vs. Outsiders, “Insiders” neglect to accept sources of information not created by themselves or those close to them, thus reinforcing information poverty.
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.
Previous experiences with poverty, housing, employment, and child care influenced whether they felt as if 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.
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.
Some who were more experienced at being homeless knew where to look for information.
Others simply ignored any sources from outside.
Few information or service agencies could anticipate the range of personal needs experienced in the environments of marginalized groups. Existing networks of “gatekeepers” have been suggested to bridge the gap (physical, cognitive, credibility, etc.) between information services and these groups.
Gatekeepers are defined as information intermediaries who move between cultures, linking their community members with alternatives or solutions (Kurtz, 1968).
When discussing technology, these individuals have been referred to as “ local tailors” and “technology mediators ” , providing a bridget between generic technologies and their local interpretation and application (Star and Ruhleder (1996)) While libraries offer some opportunity to provide access and reduce barriers to technology usage, they don’t necessarily serve as local tailors, and therefore are not appealing to low income individuals. Getting other low-income community members to participate in the creation of creation of networked community information and policy/program development could offer a solution
Homeless and Information Professionals
Information Professionals can operate as weak ties for homeless individuals, serving as a bridge to networks that may assist them in improving their condition.
Establishing partnerships with social service agencies, advocacy groups, and businesses serving the homeless can facilitate a relationship that could help information professionals to be seen as allies.
The use of gatekeepers may be one way to overcome the barriers that may exist between the perceived “insider” and “outsider groups.
Performing a community needs assessment can help identify the pressing needs of the local homeless population.
Making resources easily accessible and available for individuals who may be apprehensive about asking for help can help them to get the information they need.
Social Media Initiatives
This website, started by former homeless visionary Mark Horvath, offers homeless individuals a chance to connect with each other and the resources around them.
Videos show how to set up a blog, as well as Gmail/Twitter/Facebook accounts.
People can share their stories, find other homeless near them, and locate companies that can offer help getting back on their feet.
Social Media Initiatives
This site aims to connect individuals via social media, beginning by following the progress of four individuals, Danny, Derrick, Albert, & Carlos.
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.
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.
www.ibiblio.org/rcip/abouthomelessinfo.html Website offering a myriad of information resources for homeless person, homeless advocates and librarians . Other Online Initiatives