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Determining critical factors in community-level planning of homeless service projects

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Title: Determining critical factors in community-level planning of homeless service projects
Author(s): Miller, Abbilyn
Director of Research: Dearborn, Lynne
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Lawson, Laura
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Dearborn, Lynne; Bates, Lisa; Dianne, Harris
Department / Program: Landscape Architecture
Discipline: Landscape Architecture
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): homelessness community planning design shelters policy narrative social constructionism qualitative
Abstract: In recent years, communities around the U.S. have been faced with an intractable problem of rising homelessness, dwindling resources, and increasing numbers of tent cities within municipal limits. In this moment of U.S. upheaval, we have a chance to rethink what home means and how local policies can better meet people’s needs of home, particularly for those considered homeless. A common thread unites all community conflicts and decisions about shelters, transitional centers, tent cities and other institutionally created housing for the homeless—core beliefs about what ‘home’ and ‘homelessness’ mean. How we think about ‘home’ and what that means for housing impacts how people without access to those dominant types of housing are conceptualized. National approaches to home have implications for all citizens, but particularly for those who find themselves unable to afford the types of accommodations associated with ‘home.’ I locate this study of citizenship and home within spaces of housing designated for “homeless” persons, believing these spaces to be much more than a transitional space through which homeless people are moved back into societally accepted housing. Instead, I see them as spaces of citizenship practice, within which local policymaking, service provider rules and regulations, and physical spaces themselves all play critical roles in determining the degree to which residents can access economic, cultural and political citizenship. Research on homeless services often evaluates how well services function within a shelter. In my work, I seek a more contextualized sense of the role of homeless services in community-wide decisions about homelessness. My study seeks to understand how issues of dominant values and normative beliefs about homelessness impact the planning of homeless shelter/housing projects. At its core, this dissertation examines the conditions under which conflict over definitions of "home" and its relationship to housing, diminish the effectiveness of local communities' efforts to build shelter-related services that meet the needs of service recipients. I examine this question in the context of six shelter developments over the course of 35 years in Champaign-Urbana. These six projects comprise the bulk of the community’s efforts to address homelessness, and taken as a whole, offer a variety of situations in which to examine my research question to understand the critical factors across multiple decisions. I employ social constructionism as the basis for this project. Social constructionism informs my understanding of the nature of social problems—that knowledge about a social problem is constructed through experience and language and that these are historically contingent and contextual. I selected the community of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, as the focus of my research. I characterize the Champaign-Urbana community as a “caring city,” quite different from the “mean cities” so well documented by legal geographers and advocacy groups. Places like Champaign-Urbana are far less studied and thus less understood as sites of contestation over similar rights and citizenship issues, though in more nuanced ways than the overtly punitive approaches of mean cities. Within this community, I examine six shelters that have been proposed and developed over the past thirty-five years, developing analysis of how community discourses impacted physical and social aspects of the shelter. I included seven major interest groups as sources of community discourses. These include city council and staff, homeless service providers, shelter project developers, media, community members supporting projects, community members opposing projects, and community members experiencing homelessness. Each of these interest groups, to varying degrees, has played an important role in shaping community understandings of homelessness and appropriate actions to deal with homelessness. I structured my data collection to seek out, as much as possible, each interest group’s contributions to local discourses. My data sources include relevant City Council meetings (audio recordings), historical media coverage regarding each project, interviews with project developers, interviews with city officials and staff, interviews with shelter residents, and policy documents for each project, as well as city policy documents regarding homelessness in general. The first analysis chapter offers an overarching analysis of the role of “home” and “homelessness” assumptions in shaping the development debates. I address debates over the purpose of a shelter, in which shelters have been framed either as housing or as social service centers, before moving to a discussion of “home” and “homeless” as framing devices in conceptualizing shelters. I then turn to a discussion of how assumed population characteristics shape stakeholders’ approaches to shelters, particularly in whether stakeholders frame the developments as legitimate/illegitimate. Chapter 5 continues this analysis, focusing on gender as one critical population characteristic. Gendered norms of “homelessness” play a significant role in decision-making about who is deserving of housing and services, and these decisions impact what men and women are afforded in their living environments. Women have benefited from communities’ reliance on gender norms, yet there are also drawbacks to one’s identity being so firmly tied to “home.” One is the unequal treatment of single women, and another is the association of one’s identity as belonging in the home, when women may not feel the same attachment to home that others assume they should have. Men have been stigmatized and maligned through communities’ reliance on gender norms. They occupy spaces that fail to meet “home” needs, most importantly privacy and dignity. As “failed men,” they often are not provided with living spaces but rather treated to punitive police actions. Chapter 6 addresses the issue of how communities frame poor people and their place in the community, drawing out implications for the ways in which policymakers and the broader community interact with, allocate resources for, and otherwise treat these individuals. Within any community, stakeholders choose to represent the poor in various ways, including casting them as objects of scorn, pity, charity, empathy, or otherwise. These particularities of communities’ representations of homeless individuals have implications for their policies. In this chapter, I examine how ideas about homeless individuals, imagined as members of the community, impact stakeholders’ support for housing for these individuals, as well as their framing of that housing’s purpose. I clarify the opportunities for citizenship that are available (or not available) to unhoused community members, based on the various representations of their place in the community. Chapter 7 begins an examination of the shelter spaces through the lens of “home” needs. Understanding personal needs and how those needs are met by different spaces allows for an evaluation of shelters from the perspective of home needs. To ground this study’s analysis of shelters as spaces of “home” provision, I draw on the fields of social and environmental psychology. Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I develop a basis for determining the elements of home that are necessary to support basic human functioning and well-being, including shelter, privacy, heart, hearth and roots. Chapter 8 examines the physical and social spaces of the shelter projects to understand which elements of home are advanced in discourse about the projects, which elements are/were actually operational in the spaces, and how these elements and their operationalization compare to the qualities of home that are most valued by people labeled “homeless.” In this examination, I look not just at the elements themselves, but at the way they are manifested in the physical and social environment. I attend to the variations across projects, seeking to more deeply understand how these variations matter for the goal of providing qualities that are associated with the idea of ‘home.’ Ultimately, it is the stability of self, and confidence in one’s surroundings and his/her place in it that will allow someone to flourish as a human being. The points raised are critical elements that designers, planners, developers, and communities as a whole must begin to consider if we are serious about supporting individuals in achieving well-being and positive functioning in all types of housing situations, not just those associated with mainstream notions of “home.” The conclusion advances a set of recommendations that are meant to address overarching issues of affordable housing and homelessness, as well as some of the thornier details, first revisiting the state of “home” in this country, tying local concerns to broader national trends in thought and policy practice. I then turn to a summation of the link between participation and full citizenship, advancing a series of recommendations set in the context of Champaign-Urbana.
Issue Date: 2012-05-22
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/31069
Rights Information: Copyright 2012 Abbilyn Miller
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-05-22
Date Deposited: 2012-05
 

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