My program of study: Commerce
Investigation question: Does it matter that I’ve become desensitized to homeless people? (Edit: How have I become so desensitized to the homeless?)
Part Two: Interview
a) Alain Spitzer is the executive director at the St-James drop-in center for the marginalized and/or homeless.
b) I chose to interview Alain because he has been working with Montreal’s less fortunate for over 15 years and has personal relationships with the homeless people he works with. As the executive director, not only does Alain see structural and more general issues, but he is also familiar with individual and personal problems felt by the homeless members at St-James. Alain turned out to be a good interview subject because he was really enthusiastic and passionate about homelessness and the problems he’s seen. Although he often replied to my questions with longer, more rant-style answers, he gave me a new point of view on my topic and helped me gain new ideas.
c) I conducted my interview in person at the St-James drop-in center. The drop-in center is one giant room in the basement of a church with a few small offices to the side of it. When I walked in to the main room, I saw a couple dozen men gathered around a huge table and talking. One of them said hello to me, and then walked me to where Mr. Spitzer was when I asked. As I waited for Alain to finish a phone call, a man walked in, greeted me nicely, and then used the phone. The walls were white but plastered with beautiful framed sketches and paintings. I could feel a strong sense of community and pride in the place. Alain then led me into a smaller, more private room that was covered in more paintings to do the interview. I felt comfortable and relaxed. The interview flowed well and felt like a conversation even though Alain was talking most of the time. Although the conversation veered in a different direction than I had imagined, it occurred to me that what Alain was saying and the topics he was bringing up were ultimately more important. I was less concerned with getting answers to my questions and more interested in hearing what he believed was significant.
d) Even though Alain was wearing jeans and a button-up flannel shirt, he seemed somewhat serious. From what I could tell, Alain was dedicated, empathetic, and level-headed. He never fidgeted and always kept eye contact. The way he spoke made everything seem extremely important and urgent. He never looked judgemental or pessimistic, but said things the way they were, without “fluff”. Alain never exaggerated things to make a point, but instead said things simply and genuinely. He was enthusiastic about seeing change but wasn’t overly optimistic.
e) Q: What do you think about the Housing First Approach?
A: Homelessness is a very interesting word, you know, home/less, it’s a very generic word to describe people without a place to stay, but it’s not very descriptive of anything, and when we try to address homelessness, what we’re really talking about is houselessness. People talk about homelessness like the only issue is housing, so we give everybody an apartment—you’re no longer homeless. Home is more than just a place to live. It’s dignity, it’s an opportunity to give back, it’s an opportunity to contribute, it’s a reciprocal relationship with other people. If you’re homeless, you’re not a part of that greater body. If you go to any shelter, you will notice that there is no hope. […] My problem with it is that it’s one solution for a very small portion of people. There was this insinuation that it would be this vaccine of some kind—but there’s no vaccine for homelessness. The reality is that it didn’t address many people. Everyone’s different and different factors affect their situation. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s just that you never put your eggs in one basket. There’s no one answer fits all. […] I don’t think it’s only a systems issue—a government issue, a hospital issue—but it’s a collective responsibility, as it always has been.
Q: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?
A: I’m not really sure where we’re going with all this. It’s going to be good, it’s going to be bad. In the 11 years I’ve been here, I’ve done about 67 funerals. A lot of the stories don’t end well. I don’t know how long I’ll do this for, but I just want to walk with you for a while. I don’t want to walk with you as a person who gets paid to do this—I just want to walk.
f) The most helpful thing I learned from this interview was to stop looking at this issue in such an abstract way. Even in researching homelessness, I avoided thinking about the homeless as people. Experiencing what the drop-in center was really like and seeing the way people treated me made me see the real human element of homelessness. I learned that everyone is different and to use the blanket term homeless erases the reality that these are real individuals. This experience helped me understand that while it is an issue in our systems, it’s more of a cultural issue. We have the responsibility to create change in our systems and in the way we treat and help people.
Part Three: Textual Research Notes
- Belcher, John R. and Bruce R. DeForge. “Social Stigma and Homelessness: The Limits of Social Change.” Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 22.8 (2012): 929-946. Web.
This source assesses the problems around the stigmatization of homeless people and how it relates to capitalism. It will be useful in presenting the reasons stereotypes about homeless people exist, the way the general public blames homeless people for their own state of homelessness and ignores exterior factors, and the limits of social change in a capitalist society. In reading this article, I discovered that in a capitalist society, we label homeless people as no longer “useful” or “functional” members of capitalism since they don’t work to support the system, which affects our empathy towards them.
- Lee, Saerom, Karen Page Winterich and William T. Ross Jr. “I’m Moral, but I Won’t Help You: The Distinct Roles of Empathy and Justice in Donations.” Journal of Consumer Research 41.3 (2014): 678-696. Web.
This source examines the effect of a person’s responsibility for their plight and the roles of empathy and justice on charitable giving. This source will help me explore the reasons people may care less about helping homeless people, due to stereotypes, than another cause. This article will also be useful in revealing the role of empathy in moral behaviour and how if you can’t identify with a person’s situation, you might be less likely to want to help.
- Piat, Myra et al. “Understanding How Both Individual and Structural Factors Contribute to and Sustain Homelessness in Canada.” Urban Studies 52.13 (2015): 2366-2382. Web.
This source explores the individual and structural contributions to homelessness. This article will be incredibly useful in breaking down stereotypes about homeless people by showing that not only do individual factors cause homelessness, like mental illness or substance abuse, but structural factors such as transitions from foster care, lack of affordable housing, and discrimination. This source will help me put my article together by stressing the importance of finding the true causes of homelessness to solving the issue.
- Fleury, Marie-Josée et al. “Evaluation of the implementation of the Montreal At Home/Chez Soi Project.”BMC Health Service Research 14.1 (2014): 557-571. Web.
This source assesses the implementation of the Housing First approach in Montreal. This source will be useful in presenting the difficulties seen using the approach. It will also help present the Housing First approach, its strengths and weaknesses, and the resources needed to make this approach more useful. With this article, I discovered the complex issues that come with this approach to homelessness.
- Trypuc, Bri and Jeffrey Robinson. Homelessness in Canada: A Funder’s Primer in Understanding the Tragedy on Canada’s Streets. Toronto: Charity Intelligence Canada, 2009. Web.
This report presents research on Canada’s homeless, costs of homelessness, and the Housing First approach. This report will be useful in presenting concrete facts and figures about homelessness in Canada, including causes, demographics, and costs. The information provided will be helpful to show the theory behind the Housing First approach as well as statistics about the solution.
- Figueroa, Alyssa. “Do You Ignore Homeless People?” Alternet. n.p., 29 January 2013. Web. 6 March 2016.
This source looks into the psychology of why people ignore the homeless. This article will be helpful to present the many reasons people ignore or distance themselves from homeless people: they blame the homeless for their situation because of stereotypes, poverty is ugly up close, or they think it could never happen to them. This source also reveals many causes of homelessness, arguing that it’s the manifestation of racism, classism, and lack of housing, which will be useful for me to tackle stereotypes of homelessness in my feature article.
- Ross, Marvin. “Money Spent on Homeless Research Is Better Spent Housing People.” Huffington Post. n.p., 5 August 2014. Web. 6 March 2016.
This source presents the argument that money spent on researching the Housing first approach would be better spent on health care services for the homeless. This article will be valuable in revealing the disadvantages of this approach and the inability for this approach to work in the long term in Canada, as shown in the research phase. This article will be useful in presenting alternative solutions to help the homeless.
- Interlandi, Jeneen. “The Brain’s Empathy Gap.” The New York Times. n. p., 19 March 2015. Web. 6 March 2016.
This article describes the efforts of one psychologist to manipulate empathy to stop social inequality in Hungary. This source will be useful in presenting empathy as something that is created, not something we’re born with. This article will also be useful in highlighting the fact that we are more likely to feel empathy towards someone if we have a personal connection to them, which may explain why people ignore the homeless. One thing I found really interesting within this source was the fact that to the brain, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.
- Ostroff, Joshua. “Canada Could End Homelessness. And It’ll Only Cost You 46$ A Year.” Huffington Post. n.p., 13 August 2015. Web. 6 March 2016.
This source examines the cost benefits of the Housing First approach, provides statistics about the state of homelessness in Canada, and introduces the idea that anyone can become homeless. This article will be useful to examine the theory and costs of the Housing First approach, as well as show statistics about homelessness in Canada. One thing I found revealing within this source was that for those with the highest needs, there are about 2$ in savings for every dollar spent on Housing First.
- Here At Home. Mental Health Commission of Canada. 2012. Web. 6 March 2016.
This interactive website presents stories of individual homeless people in many Canadian cities and the costs per person unhoused and housed through the Housing First approach. This source will be useful to show the costs of homelessness in numbers a lay audience can understand (in terms of per individual instead of an abstract number). This source will also be useful to dismantle stereotypes about homeless people.