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Dominant cultural narratives, in part, perpetuated by the media, impact policy decisions as well as attitudes and beliefs about social problems. While research on public attitudes toward and lay theories about “the homeless” suggests that public attitudes and beliefs may be associated with media representations of homelessness, few studies have directly assessed this relationship, instead drawing parallels between public surveys and separate media content analyses. It is important to more thoroughly understand this relationship because dominant cultural narratives potentially can impact the level of stigma persons experiencing homelessness experience as well as the types of policies implemented to alleviate their struggles.
This study examines the impact that media-perpetuated dominant cultural narratives about homelessness on O‘ahu have on community stakeholders’ beliefs/attitudes toward “the homeless” and their proposed solutions. In particular, this study will 1) identify the dominant narrative(s) surrounding homelessness on O‘ahu using discourse analysis of media coverage; 2) analyze stakeholder awareness and endorsement of these dominant narratives; and 3) assess the impact of these narratives on stakeholders’ attitudes, beliefs, and policies endorsed. One way that community psychologists can promote a more equitable society is by intervening in the types of messages people in communities receive, and understanding the role of media narratives in shaping stakeholders’ attitudes toward “the homeless” can inform interventions that seek to reduce stigma and promote more effective policies by producing healthier and more accurate narratives.
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In January 2016, as a member of the evaluation team examining the impacts of a Housing First program on O‘ahu, I collaborated with program staff and clients to conduct a Photovoice project. The program, implemented by The Institute for Human Services, hoped to further understand clients’ experiences and to provide clients with a mechanism to provide formal feedback to the program. Together, we chose Photovoice – a research methodology that aims to enable people 1) to identify and record their personal and community strengths and concerns; 2) to engage in critical dialogue about them; 3) and to communicate these strengths and concerns to policy makers (Wang & Burris, 1997). By giving Housing First clients their own camera for three weeks, this project allowed clients to identify issues and aspects of their experiences in the program that were important to them. This method allowed clients to determine what outcomes and issues were relevant to the evaluation. Through weekly group discussions, the clients shared their photographs with each other and discussed similar and dissimilar experiences with the program, with the community, and within themselves. Together the group conducted analysis on the photos and reported on the findings.
In July 2016, the Photovoice group decided to advocate for itself and the program by holding an exhibit at Honolulu Hale (city hall) in collaboration with IHS, the City, and the College of Social Sciences. The exhibit was well-attended by local politicians and community members. More information on exhibit coverage can be found under media coverage.
In December 2017, the group received a SCRA Mini-Grant to conduct a two-year followup Photovoice study. And in January 2018, the group had its article on findings from the first study published in the American Journal for Community Psychology.
Since December 2014, I have worked with Dr. Jack Barile and his Ecological Determinants Lab in conducting an evaluation of The Institute of Human Services’ Housing First program. Based on national Housing First models, the program provides quick, low-barriers housing to homeless individuals and families in Honolulu and on the Wai‘anae Coast. Once housed, clients are provided access to services and continued case management. The evaluation project is a mixed-methods study, and data includes monthly client surveys and semi-structured interviews with clients, case managers, and service providers. We supplemented surveys and interviews with a GIS mapping study and in 2016, the evaluation team, program staff, and clients incorporated a participatory component to the program in order to give clients the opportunity to provide insight and feedback to the program. See reports for more details on the program and evaluation findings.