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Homeless exercise their ‘Write to Speak’


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March 22, 2010

There is a new voice entering the public dialogue on the issue of homelessness in Calgary. Tim Barber, a veteran of homelessness, wants to enlighten Calgarians with a new perspective on the issues so they can build more informed opinions. Barber’s perspective is unique, because he is also currently homeless.

Barber and three other residents of the Salvation Army are participating in Write to Speak, a research project led by University of Calgary communications studies professor Barbara Schneider. Schneider created the writing project in the form of a blog as a part of her investigation of the implications of giving a public voice to people who are homeless. Through Write to Speak, Barber and others who are homeless blog in order to engage with Calgarians on the subject of homelessness and comment on and debate about the issues.

“Over $100,000 per year is spent on every homeless person in Alberta,” says Barber. “Because of the blog, I’m creating a proposal that could solve homelessness in five years. It would cost less and include incentives to move out of shelters, and use other homeless people as volunteers.”

“People who are homeless have been disenfranchised from participating in the public discourse about homelessness,” says Schneider. “Traditional dialogue on the issues is often stigmatizing and reinforces ‘us versus them’ barriers. The key to citizenship, for people who are homeless, is having the right to speak for themselves.”

The one-of-a-kind blog is not a personal introspective. Rather, it offers insightful perspectives from people like Barber on innovative models of housing and communities for people who are currently homeless, an analysis of the financial cost to governments and agencies of keeping people homeless versus the cost of housing them, and even on shelter policies.

Barber was recruited to the project through the Salvation Army. As a partner in Schneider’s research the organization hosts the Write to Speak project but staff to do not interact with participants so as not to skew their perspective.

“These people are really putting themselves out there by participating in Write to Speak,” says Concetta Sonnenberg, Schneider’s research assistant. “The barriers are so strongly against them that saying anything about the issues or the shelters can be very difficult.”

View the Write to Speak blog at livinghomelessourwritetospeak.blogspot.com