PSU Brandywine prof’s book gives homeless a voice
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.