The Homeless People’s Story Project

The Homeless People’s Story Project is a community initiative created by and for homeless and formerly homeless people in the greater Los Angeles Area.

The project will provide material support, mentoring and community to homeless and formerly homeless people who are seeking an opportunity to share stories about their lives and experiences. Stories are constructed through workshops, and participants receive small stipends to support their work as storytellers. Stories can be published through print chapbooks and digital volumes, and storytellers who would like opportunities to read from or perform their stories publicly will be offered opportunities to do so at live events or through podcasts. The story workshops are influenced by insights from the “trauma-informed care” movement[1], and focus on creating supportive spaces for people who have extreme histories of violence, deprivation, mental illness, and ongoing traumatic stress. The story workshops will be accompanied for options to participate in subsequent semi-structured interviews and focus groups, incorporating research design utilizing elements of participatory action research – a methodology focused in increasing participant control of the research agenda and creating more equity in the research process.[2]

The project will accomplish several tasks: 1) to provide socially and economically supportive communal spaces to homeless persons who are interested in documenting or sharing their stories, 2) to draw public attention to the lived experiences and social realities of homeless people through live performances, digital collections of writing and art work, and recorded stories (in podcast format), and 3) to generate an archive of homeless people’s narratives as a basis for empirical analysis of the systemic dynamics that sustain homelessness, whether by generating economic and housing vulnerability, or through systemic deficits or failures in homeless services and related spheres, and 4) to generate preliminary data identifying dynamics that facilitate homelessness, and systemic failures to assist homeless people.

Homeless and formerly homeless project coordinators are currently identified and committed to the project, and have identified a range of priority issues they expect to address through the project including: mental illness, mental and physical healthcare needs, poverty and racism, gender violence as a precursor to homelessness, food access for homeless persons and people at-risk for homelessness, challenges in accessing victims’ services, and barriers to shelter and economic recovery. In essence, beyond the healing or emotionally satisfying aspects of storytelling – the story project is also a systems change effort, geared towards bringing the insights, critiques, and experiences of homeless people to the attention of policy makers, community stakeholders, and service providers in order to challenge and improve the public response to homelessness in Los Angeles, and in the state of California. The project benefits from consultation and partnership with Trauma Informed LA, a multi-disciplinary team of advocates and providers.

[1] See e.g. Elizabeth K. Hopper, Ellen L. Bassuk, and Jeffrey Olivet, “Shelter from the Storm: Trauma-Informed Care in Homelessness Services Settings”, The Open Health Services and Policy Journal, 3, p. 80 (2010).

[2] For background, see e.g. Fran Baum, Colin MacDougall, and Danielle Smith, “Participatory Action Research”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60:10 p. 854 (2006)