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The path to homelessness

As our research process continued, we saw a question emerge that felt interesting. How do stigmas or psychological barriers affect the way people interact in physical spaces?

This is of course still a very general question. But it holds some interesting value.

We started to see how different people are affected in different ways by stigma. Perhaps an elderly person is uncomfortable using a child’s playground. Or someone is uncomfortable being physically exposed in a public pool change room. Or someone feels unnerved when approached by a homeless person.

An infographic in which a dotted line labelled "stigma or psychological barrier" separates two sides. On the right is "people" such as elderly, children or adults. And on the left is "physical spaces" - such as parks or playgrounds  - and "activities" such as eating alone in a restaurant or giving money to a homeless person.
An initial sketch of how stigma can have impact.

Our team shared some personal examples - like the loneliness that comes from living away from home–or one’s home country for that matter. And how something like a particular scent from a candle can help transport one, through nostalgia, to a more comforting place.

This in turn led us to thinking about how it may be beneficial to start talking to people in our cohort about their experiences. Maybe by going through an initial set of conversations with some of them, we could find some more specific areas we could focus our efforts on.

Some questions might include:

  • Where have you experienced psychological barriers to participating in activities or entering spaces?

  • Where have you witnessed (in others) psychological barriers to participating in activities or entering spaces?

The fact that there is great diversity in our cohort–people coming from all over the world–might lead to some especially interesting perspectives.

In parallel, while doing some research in the nature of stigmas, we came upon some literature that focused on homelessness. This is a ‘group’ (which obviously has great diversity in it as well), that is highly stigmatized. And we’ve each had our own experiences with stigmas or psychological boundaries with homeless individuals.

And this initial research we looked at showed that many of people’s assumptions about the homeless are simply wrong (like generally being violent for example).

This interest in further exploring homeless makes me think that it is a strong candidate for narrowing our research aims.

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