Date of Award

12-1-2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Speech Communication

First Advisor

Daughton, Suzanne

Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation is to provide an academic platform for people who are homeless to narrate their lived experiences. Traditionally, scholars and politicians drive public conversations about homelessness and commonly reach conclusions that require more social programs and more funding. In the literature review of this dissertation, I argue that many social programs for the homeless, while well intended, fall short of their goals because scholars and politicians do not appreciate the idea that homeless people are part of a distinct culture with different lifestyles and objectives. Because of the cultural differences between the housed and the homeless, social programs that may work for the housed may not work for the homeless. Therefore, to create policy that will best function for the homeless, it is important to learn about the culture of homelessness by listening to the voices of homeless people. In an effort to learn about the culture of homelessness, in this dissertation I utilize the narrative paradigm as a theoretical framework and ask: How do homeless people narrate their experiences?; What types of experiences and relationships do homeless people have with government benefits and charitable organizations?; and How would homeless people craft economic and social policy if given the opportunity to do so? To answer these questions, I spent one summer working at a homeless shelter and interviewed 10 homeless people. While each person had an individual story, there were common themes that emerged among participants. These themes were arranged chronologically and analyzed in chapters entitled: Losing Everything, Navigating the System, Manipulating the System, and Seeking Recognition/Finding Community. Based on my analysis of these narratives, I propose suggestions for how public policy can better respond to the needs of the homeless by offering long-term shelter assistance, connecting benefits to work and education performance, and educating the housed about the resources available for the homeless in their community. In the end, implementing policies that address homelessness should be done in conversation with the homeless. The voices of homeless people matter and intercultural dialogue between the housed and the homeless fosters a sense of mutual respect, personal empowerment, and shared ownership of public policy.

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