NEW RICHMOND — A survey of those experiencing homelessness in New Richmond found that the majority do not feel their voices are being heard, though they are willing to speak up if someone would give them the opportunity.
New Richmond was included in a national survey of 323 people experiencing homelessness across 15 states.
The project, led by PhD-candidate Chelsea Nelson, was designed to take a look at the issue of homelessness with a focus on those who are actually experiencing it. Nelson has found that most existing data and studies on the issue does not include direct perspective from those who are homeless. The studies that do have that perspective are either small in scale or dated, she said.
Nelson spoke with 12 people at Grace Place in New Richmond at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020.
“The people in general and in New Richmond have been so open with their honest feedback, their willingness to participate,” she said.
Each individual was asked a series of about 25 questions in an anonymous survey. The survey had specific questions with a policy-focus, but Nelson provided flexibility so the participants could openly give their thoughts and opinions.
The New Richmond data lined up with the national data, which showed interesting trends regarding needs and holes in the system and ideas of what could be done, Nelson said.
“I’m hoping that it will be really impactful for the community themselves,” she said.
New Richmond results
The survey of those experiencing homelessness in New Richmond found:
100% do not prefer to be homeless
This idea that those who are homeless prefer the lifestyle is a common misconception that Nelson said she heard often.
70% do not feel their voice is being heard and 100% want to share their voice
When looking at homelessness policies, people often turn to experts including politicians, executive directors or board members. While those people have incredible expertise, Nelson said they have never experienced homelessness themselves.
“Individuals that I surveyed, they do overwhelmingly want to share their experience, they want to be helpful, they want to tell you what’s going on,” she said.
70% have never been asked to sit on a board or committee
Of the 30% of those who have been asked, the survey found two-thirds felt it was a placating gesture as opposed to at a full capacity.
The main thing the community wanted people to understand is their firsthand, lived experience, Nelson said.
The issue is about more than just getting a job or getting shelter, as the personal stories Nelson heard showed.
“It’s all of these things that integrate together to create the complex web of success that we all have to work through,” Nelson said.
One woman became homeless after getting a degenerative eye disorder that was not covered by her employee healthcare. The medical bills stacked up and she lost her car and home. Another woman who was homeless received necessary assistance until she got a minimum wage job, and then all assistance stopped. She was still behind on payments at the time though, and she became homeless again. Three more months of assistance would have helped her stay fully on her feet, Nelson said.
Many stories showed that a greater investment in people up front would save the system money in the long run.
“If you’re not in those shoes or if you’re not meeting that population where they’re at and allowing for that honest, open, candid and anonymous conversation, it kind of makes it hard to fully understand some of that stuff,” Nelsons said.
Nelson hopes her study can serve as a megaphone to amplify the voices of those who are living through the issue and know it best.