Sounding Off: Soliciting an Emotional and Multi-Sensory Response to Single Homelessness

Map of homelessness

In 2015, we were delighted to win the LARIA prize for ‘Best Presentation of Local Area Research’ for our project Imaging Homelessness in a City of Care. As a reminder – the project engaged homeless people in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (UK) in a lo-fi participatory mapping exercise, with the aims of: challenging essentialist readings of the ‘universal homeless subject’ – and with that improving public understanding of homelessness issues; and establishing a forum for homeless people to offer reflections on local services and infrastructure.

The project proceeded by means of six workshops with 30 rough sleepers and supported accommodation users – all recruited from the city’s hostels and drop-ins. In the company of key workers where appropriate, participants were supported to annotate Google Maps-generated images of Newcastle city centre, with reflections on the key spaces, objects, events and experiences of significance to their lives. The mappings emerging from these workshops were subsequently shared with artist Jo Oldham, who prepared a ‘composite’ map. Our goal was to encourage those viewing the map to “slow down…., to linger and to notice” (Gurevitch, 1998).

In the months following the 2015 LARIA conference, we embarked on a new project, Sounding Off: an investigation of visible street homelessness. Funded – like Imaging Homelessness in a City of Care – by the Economic and Social Research Council, the project involved the development and installation of a homelessness-themed sound walk in Newcastle city centre. Formed from a series of interactive Quick Response (QR) codes, all of them based in areas of the city identified as having important material and/or symbolic significance to homeless people, the sound walk offers valuable insights into the experiential aspects of street homelessness. Through its triangulation of homeless participant and stakeholder perspectives, it also aims to promote a more nuanced public understanding and discussion of this pressing social issue.

Several of the QR codes will be on display at the LARIA Annual Conference. While there are clear limitations to listening to these recordings within the safe confines of the conference hall, as opposed to in place where listeners can take in the sights, smells and sounds of key spaces of homelessness in Newcastle, we hope that they will provide a more multi-sensory understanding of homelessness and related issues.

Oliver Moss, Senior Research Fellow, Northumbria University, O.Moss@northumbria.ac.uk

Adele Irving, Senior Research Fellow, Northumbria University, Adele2.irving@northumbria.ac.uk

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