While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)

Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

People experiencing homelessness must often learn to ‘perform as homeless’ to receive the services they need, according to new UBC Okanagan research.

Researchers Dr. Shelley Cook and Dr. Rachelle Hole with UBC Okanagan’s school of social work recently published a study that attempts to gain an understanding of homeless peoples’ survival through their relationships with the system of service providers.

According to one study participant, “it is about looking homeless, but not too homeless.”

Work for the study took place in downtown Kelowna, where Cook interviewed a number of men and women experiencing homelessness, ranging in age from 23 to 55. She found, contrary to earlier research, people who live on the street depend on service providers as their main source of material and social support, not their relationships with each other.

Cook said the people she spoke with learned how to tailor their interactions to the expectations of different service providers — with a successful performance meaning the difference between being deemed appropriate for services, or not. Often over-burdened, providers sometimes have to be selective in who they choose to offer their services to.

“In a situation where need greatly outpaces the ability of the service system — where there’s only so many beds or bus tickets available — performing those representations of homelessness aligned with the service setting is all the more important,” said Cook. “It’s a necessary survival strategy that people use to increase their odds of making it on the street.”

READ MORE: B.C. nurse suspended after using Tensor bandage to trap long-term care patient in room

READ MORE: Kelowna’s new downtown campus to help alleviate UBCO’s space crunch

Hole said performances take on different expressions even between similar services. According to previous research, homeless people recognize what service providers are looking for and knowingly adapt their performance to those indicators. Study participants said service providers often encouraged them to “play up” their needs.

“The basis of performing involves presenting the appropriate level of need based on their perception of the service context,” said Hole.

While this practice does lead to increased odds of service access, Hole said the fact people feel they need to ‘perform’ in order to get appropriate services reinforces a homeless identity.

“With competition for resources contributing to the need for these performances that are in part, a side-effect of challenges related to service capacity, the problematic dynamic will persist as long as capacity issues do,” she said.

Cook said the findings are consistent with other communities, despite the fieldwork only taking place in downtown Kelowna.

“I think it’s clear that we need to think about how the policies and practices aimed at addressing homelessness may actually be contributing to people’s subjectification as a homeless person,” said Cook. “If we fail to recognize and have an appreciation for the ways in which the discourse underlying different approaches creates and reinforces this box, however inadvertently or unintentionally, we will continue to perpetuate homelessness.”

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: michael.rodriguez@kelownacapnews.com


@michaelrdrguez
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

UBC

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A COVID-19 exposure has been reported at Drinkwater Elementary School dating to Feb. 25. (Google Street View image)
COVID-19 exposure reported at Drinkwater Elementary

Possible exposures occurred on Thursday, Feb. 25

A graphic design of the new RCMP detachment which will be located on a five-acre property bordering Ford Road and Drinkwater Road. (File graphic)
Heavy trucks not allowed shortcut during construction of RCMP detachment

North Cowichan won’t allow heavy trucks on Drinkwater Road where not designated

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Laketown Ranch to welcome campers this summer

Sunfest site will provide camping amenities between May and September

‘I chose my children’s breakfasts purely based on what dishes would fit best into the dishwasher.’ (Bobbi Venier photo)
Sarah Simpson Column: Delayed gratification and the benefits of efficiency

I was driving with just my daughter the other day and we… Continue reading

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Chemainus teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

1957 photo shows Six Mile House-sponsored #4 1932 Ford stock car with Frank Morris (from left), Ted Mackenzie, Bill Sim and driver Gerry Sylvester. (Bud Glover/Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame)
Memories race as Western Speedway approaches its finish line

‘It was life to us:’ Vancouver Island racers, crew will never forget what the track gave them

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

A crossover utility vehicle smashed through the front of a business on Bowen Road on Friday evening. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Vehicle smashes all the way inside business in Nanaimo

No serious injuries reported after incident at Venue Financial Centres on Friday

Most Read