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Empowerment and engagement: case studies in Victoria, Australia of people who are homeless and volunteers who are working in services for the home-less

Greig, Zachary (2020) Empowerment and engagement: case studies in Victoria, Australia of people who are homeless and volunteers who are working in services for the home-less. PhD thesis, Victoria University.

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Abstract

By drawing on community development values and principles as well as a social constructivist theoretical perspective, this study aims to understand how people who are homeless and the volunteers who serve them perceive their roles in terms of empowerment and disempowerment. Twenty-nine individuals have participated in this study: 18 had personal experiences of homelessness and 11 volunteered in the homelessness sector. This study collects data through informal in-depth interviews, and it thematically examines a research diary. Research outcomes suggest that volunteers feel elements of perceived and actual power in their volunteerism. The study argues that such power stems from a belief that volunteering benefits the volunteer, people experiencing homelessness and broader society. These findings are consistent with existing literature and popular discourse; however, my research discovers that volunteers also express guilt and a reluctance to self-identify as a volunteer. This reticence, which accompanies volunteers’ scrutiny of the role’s characterisation as superior, runs contrary to how scholarship and popular discourse often understand volunteers. Participants with first-hand experiences of homelessness characterise the role of the Australian ‘homeless person’ through notions of disempowerment and empowerment. They perceive disempowerment in the various ways they experience social disconnection: family rejection, a lack of companionship through friends and low-quality or precarious relationships within the home-less community. They also connect socially expected behaviours, rights, obligations, beliefs and norms to the disempowerment of welfare users. Nevertheless, through topics of public space, safety and protection, these participants express a sense of belonging and perceived empowerment. Crucially, this study finds that 13 of the 18 ‘homeless’ participants had volunteered in the homelessness sector. This unanticipated observation expands the study’s analytical focus beyond an oppression-privilege binary in order to explore the nuances of participants’ complex social positions. As a result, the study tracks the ways by which volunteering challenges what it means to be ‘homeless’ in Australia and how it helps some ‘homeless people’ overcome aspects of the power inequalities encountered in mainstream society and welfare contexts. Overall, the study submits that volunteering signals the personal resources, abilities, skills, knowledge and potential that home-less people possess to improve their own lives and determine their own future. Finally, the process of research challenges the student researcher’s expectations of what it means to perform as an effective scholar. The willingness and ability to listen - to offer kindness, sympathy and compassion – reconfigures how the student understands himself, others and good social work.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD thesis)
Uncontrolled Keywords: community; power; empowerment; homelessness; volunteerism; volunteers; welfare; social role; policy; community development; Victoria; Australia
Subjects: Current > FOR Classification > 1608 Sociology
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Depositing User: VUIR
Date Deposited: 26 May 2020 02:43
Last Modified: 26 May 2020 02:43
URI: http://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/40453
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