I caught up with Kenny Lieske from Good Organisation recently, and was lucky enough to get a copy of the excellent new book from Coterminous – Homeless Bound. The book explores how the language and misconceptions of people experiencing homeless continue to shape our response to the issues. His colleague Natasha Almond has reviewed the book for New System Alliance. Here’s her review….
“The media, almost without exception, will put an image of a ‘man in doorway’ shot in an article about homelessness,” one contributor writes in a section of Homeless Bound, entitled Misrepresentation. “They love stereotypes, and a lot of that has been because charities like Shelter and Crisis have used that device since their creation in the late 1960s. In those days it was probably an appropriate way of raising funds… but it completely skews the reality of what’s going on.”
Homeless Bound is the brainchild of the Good Organisation, a heritage and tourism-based social enterprise led by individuals affected by homelessness within York, who were fired up after completing a course on ‘systems thinking’ (highly recommended if you get the chance). Natasha explains that they “ wanted to attempt a cultural shift in the language being used to describe people that have been affected by homelessness. Half our team have experienced homelessness and do not recognise themselves as described by the media or many of the institutions built to offer their support. So we thought we would create a book to enable people to reflect on how language and misconceptions of homeless people shapes our response to the issue.
Our trusted colleague, well versed in the art of ‘Participatory Research’, offered to train the team in the art, who then spent many afternoons running a cafe at Carecent that provides breakfast to people experiencing homelessness, talking to people.”
These insightful conversations with other people that had experienced homelessness, led to the contribution of the art, photography and creative writing that gave birth to this new book that challenges the perceptions about them.
Elsewhere the book takes aim at anti-begging initiatives such as ad campaigns by Nottingham City Council and a contactless payment trial in Oxford that encouraged members of the public to “scan rough sleepers like supermarket commodities rather than give cash”.
“They don’t trust us to look after our own money or even make our own decisions,” one person wrote. “We’re infantilised by the public and many support organisations.”
Homeless Bound also explores the default perception of homelessness – a man in a doorway, living on the streets – that misrepresents its range and shifting nature, limiting our understanding of what homelessness is, leading to “the public often challenging the ‘realness’ of homelessness other than rough sleeping”.
Demonisation, criminalisation, gentrification, politicisation and blame are among the themes illustrated in the book, all factors that “further exclude and stigmatise those experiencing homelessness and ultimately make homelessness easier to ignore”.
The interactive book uses graphic design, photography and creative writing to explore a broad range of themes, such as “how language and stereotypes ultimately lead to the infantilisation and disempowerment of those affected by homelessness”.
The completed 120-page publication also addresses how prevailing public perceptions often retain a focus on the individual as “problematic”, rather than the systemic and structural causes of poverty.
Those who contributed brought a wide variety of personal insights, encompassing rough sleepers, those living in hostels or temporary accommodation, as well as individuals whose homelessness is hidden or rarely acknowledged. The hardback coffee table book costs £25 and is available at this link.
What is Coterminous CIC?
This collaborative project brings artists and designers together with those experiencing homelessness, ex-offenders and former drug users to co-create unique products.
What is the Good Organisation?