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Focusing in

Our team has come to a clear and mutual agreement on focusing our project efforts towards the stigmatization of unhoused individuals and the division that exists between housed and unhoused communities. With this in mind, we started to explore stigmatization further. A film we stumbled upon upended many stereotypes beautifully. It’s called “Man in the Dog Park” and it’s about an anthropologist who became friends with an unhoused man several years ago. Through this man, the anthropologist opens a window into the lives of many houseless individuals who she finds are diverse, unique people - a far cry from the homogeneity often applied to them. It’s not a long film (about 14 minutes), but it really is touching and helps to shift perspective. I highly recommend giving it a watch.

The film challenges a variety of stereotypes and stigmas including houseless individuals being:

  • Dangerous

  • Lazy

  • Smelly

  • Addicts

  • Uneducated

  • Scary

  • Unstable

In the film a woman who is houseless shares a story of the embarrassment and anxiety that comes from not being able to consistently shower and, as a result, smelling bad. She shared how trying to apply for a job becomes near impossible under these circumstances as people immediately discredit her. It was a small moment in the film, but it reflected how viscous a cycle it can be once one loses the basics we all take for granted.

Further research also laid out the many factors involved in becoming and staying houseless. Policies and laws often dehumanize and exclude the houseless community. These in turn push houseless individuals into the cracks and crevices of society, and almost literally makes them invisible (which is something I feel guilty of doing as I’ve walked past homeless individuals without even a glance).

A white-bearded man wearing a toque kneels on the ground in a subway station. He is holding a hand-written sign that says "seeking human kindness".
Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

Another study resonated with me quite a bit. It found that when one is presented with an atypical stereotype (the example was a ‘strong female firefighter’), the very experience of encountering it, can increase one’s cognitive flexibility. This led to the thought that by explicitly sharing stereotypes or stigmas, we can see a positive impact on our perception. I think this notion can become central to the value of the type of research we do and the output we create.

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