PSU Brandy­wine prof’s book gives home­less a voice

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Kevin Tustin ktustin@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @Kev­inTustin on Twit­ter

A new book by Penn State Brandy­wine in­struc­tor Josh Phillips, Ph. D., will tell the first-per­son ac­counts of the home­less.

The com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­fes­sor is strip­ping away the academia ap­proach to re­al­iz­ing the so­cial and eco­nomic hard­ships of be­ing home­less with a nar­ra­tive struc­ture for his soon-tobe-re­leased book “Home­less: Nar­ra­tives from the Streets”.

The book stems from Phillips’ dis­ser­ta­tion work com­pleted at South­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity and in­cludes the sto­ries of 10 peo­ple from a home­less shel­ter in south­ern Illi­nois and in­for­mal ob­ser­va­tions from dozens more.

“My orig­i­nal in­tent… is the first-per­son ac­count. I rec­og­nize that pol­icy is re­ally hard to change, etc., but the whole rea­son I wanted to use nar­ra­tive as op­posed to us­ing macroe­co­nomic anal­y­ses is be­cause my opin­ion is that nar­ra­tives mat­ter,” said Phillips. “Nar­ra­tives mat­ter and re­la­tion­ships mat­ter. When we have these big con­ver­sa­tions about wel­fare pro­grams, un­for­tu­nately the peo­ple who ben­e­fit from them are the ones not in­cluded in these de­bates.”

For the past 10 years, Phillips has been work­ing with the home­less, in­clud­ing one year in Cam­den at the New Vi­sions Day Shel­ter and many more in a more ru­ral south­ern Illi­nois shel­ter. His years of work­ing in Illi­nois de­vel­oped a trust­ing re­la­tion­ship with the peo­ple who vis­ited the shel­ter, let­ting him tell their sto­ries.

“Nor­mally when you’re talk­ing about a pop­u­la­tion that is vul­ner­a­ble, stig­ma­tized it’s dif­fi­cult to gain trust and to have peo­ple tell you their sto­ries,” he said. “I came rec­om­mended to (my sub­jects) by the peo­ple who were home­less. I was treated more of a trusted per­son where peo­ple were will­ing to trust me and open up to me.”

Phillips learned that the sys­tem to get ac­cess to so­cial re­sources is com­plex and not easy for peo­ple to nav­i­gate.

“From what I learned from peo­ple who are home­less, that was one of the things that was al­ways dif­fi­cult for them. Is­sues passed around from agency to agency,” said Phillips.

These so­cial pro­grams have been funded for tril­lions of dol­lars over the last few decades and has not changed the home­less­ness and poverty rates in the coun­try, Phillips added.

In what he deemed a “non-an­swer” an­swer to solv­ing the home­less is­sue in the coun­try, Phillips rec­om­mended mak­ing ac­cess to help a lo­cal ini­tia­tive, not a fed­eral one.

“If all of those re­sources are con­trolled by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for ex­am­ple, it’s very hard for some­one who’s home­less to sort of go and give their griev­ances to their con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives,” he said. “If lo­cal gov­ern­ment has con­trol, the home­less per­son knows that the mayor and city coun­cil are di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for things like food se­cu­rity, food bank money, hous­ing, etc.

“They can go to the peo­ple in charge of the money and can’t say some­one else is in con­trol of that. If re­sources stay lo­cal, peo­ple are in more di­rect con­tact with those in­di­vid­u­als hand­ing out those dif­fer­ent ben­e­fits.”

“Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties have to go out there and learn about the home­less prob­lem in their com­mu­nity be­cause it’s so unique,” he added.

Phillips sug­gested that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should scale back the talks to step one on pol­icy re­form.

Read­ers of the book, he said, would be sur­prised about a per­son’s trans­parency and their re­al­iza­tion of how cau­tious they are of their sit­u­a­tion.

“For many peo­ple who read this book, it might be the first time where they ac­tu­ally hear some first-per­son ac­count from a per­son who’s home­less. A lot of peo­ple de­bate our wel­fare poli­cies and a lot of peo­ple have opin­ions about home­less­ness, but I’m hop­ing this book is a place where peo­ple can ac­tu­ally hear di­rectly from peo­ple who are home­less.”

“Home­less: Nar­ra­tives from the Street” is avail­able for pre-or­der on Ama­zon.

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