Barbara Schneider, a University of Calgary communications studies professor, decided to give homeless Calgarians a voice via a blog titled Write to Speak.
She began doing research more than a year ago on how homelessness is represented in newspapers, specifically The Globe and Mail, the Calgary Herald and the Vancouver Sun.
“I thought we were going to see just one version of homelessness across the country, but it’s just not so,” says Schneider.
“In Calgary, there’s much more positive coverage of homelessness and there’s a sense that the community can do something about it,” she explains. “In Vancouver it’s much more negative.
“In the Globe and Mail, it’s represented as a local problem, so that correlates to the fact there’s no national strategy for homelessness in Canada.”
She deduced that negative outlooks of homelessness make community members back away from getting involved and think the government should deal with it.
Schneider found in the newspapers she studied, experts were quoted about homelessness more than 70 per cent of the time.
“It’s almost like homeless peoples’ stories are just there to give the experts something to comment on.
“I wanted to turn that on its head and give homeless people the opportunity to comment themselves on any issue they thought was relevant or important in regards to homelessness,” Schneider says, hence, Write to Speak.
In January of this year, Schneider partnered with the Salvation Army and put the word out that she was looking for homeless volunteers to contribute to a pre-made blog (Write to Speak) she hopes will eventually be handed off to the writers completely.
She gave the four volunteers simple guidelines: they have to write for an audience, engage people; do not rant and alienate the audience and feel free to comment about homelessness as a situation with possible ideas and solutions.
The first homeless person’s post went up in mid-February and they keep coming in varying topics and lengths.
“They love it,” says Schneider. “They really feel good about the fact that they get to express themselves on any topic that they choose.”
Schneider says she has not received any official government responses to her studies or blog, but a few homeless foundations have linked Write to Speak to their sites.
“I hope people will read the blog and come to see homeless people in a different light,” she says. “The community makes a big mistake if they think they can really solve this problem without talking to people who are homeless.”
See the posts
• See the posts on Write to Speak, livinghomelessourwritetospeak.blogspot.com and comment — feedback is encouraged.