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PLACING HOMELESSNESS: UNDERSTANDING THE PHYSICAL CONTEXT

Abstract
By : JEANNE MOORE

 
Homelessness has to be understood in terms of its personal, social and physical context (Dordick, 1997; Moore, 2000a). Homeless people are actively engaged in the homeless process, in that they are endeavouring to make sense of their circumstances and follow their rational and appropriate choices (Veness, 1992). Homelessness should be considered not as a passive state but as the outcome of an action, of an active process (Council of Europe, 1993:17).
From an environmental psychological perspective, there is no such thing as an empty space, or absent place. Physical contexts are shaped and defined by the people who conceptualise and use them. In this way, the circumstances and contexts in which homeless people survive become meaningful, despite their obvious discomforts.
This paper uses material from research data (Moore et al, 1995) and a doctoral study (Moore, 1998) to illustrate the value of an environmental psychological approach. This paper explores the nature of two homeless settings: the street and hostels. Homeless people, like most others, have a complex relationship to their physical surroundings. They are on the one hand either battling the elements or refuging under and temporary roof, but they are also creating and recreating functional domestic spaces to sleep, to eat, to talk (Moore & Canter, 1993. Taking the qualities of home as an evaluative tool, it is possible to categorise different homeless settings in terms of how home-like they are (Moore & Canter, 1993). In these ways this paper hopes to demonstrate that the relationships between homeless people and their temporary or permanent surroundings cannot be assumed

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