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 health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

Fernie Meat Market owner Mark Brown with the newest addition to his Griz Pins collection. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Griz Days this weekend!

The 44th annual Griz Days will be mostly online

STA members and non-members alike are encouraged to send in photos of their trail adventures. (Photo contributed by Scott Tibballs)
STA plots another trail for Lunch Network

The network will consist of 6km of trail outside of Sparwood

A member of the Avalanche Canada South Rockies field team gathers important snowpack data that is used to produce daily avalanche forecasts for the region. Photo by Jennifer Coulter.
Warming temperatures increase avalanche risk heading into the weekend

Warm temperatures impact conditions, human behaviour

The Elk River Pedestrian Bridge in Sparwood could be at risk without mitigation works. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Sparwood secures grant funding for bridge repairs

The district has secured $703,000 in funding from UBCM

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

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 sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

Most Read