Changing our understanding of homelessness

Social scientists at Waikato University are urging New Zealanders to view homelessness as not simply a housing issue, but also as an issue about relationships and our responses to poverty.

Professor in societal psychology, Dr Darrin Hodgetts, is an international leader in his field. In 2008, Professor Hodgetts and his colleagues Associate Professor Dr Linda Nikora and Professor Kerry Chamberlain were awarded $800,000 from the Marsden Fund to study homelessness in Hamilton and Auckland.

The funding has allowed for specific research into the relationship aspects of homelessness, including people’s experiences of it, and reasons for it. It shows that as a society, we have a long way to go in even understanding homelessness.

"Many of the services we provide for the homeless reflect the assumptions of middle-class people rather than the lived realities and motivations of homeless people," Dr Hodgetts says.

"We tend to treat homelessness as a temporary transitional thing but in fact, it’s not like that for everyone. A lot of people have been there for a long time."

The work involves researchers working directly with homeless people. The team is also in constant contact with those who provide services to the homeless, working alongside service providers.

"Psychology is an engaged discipline; I’m not interested in ‘armchair criticism’," Dr Hodgetts says.

"It’s about doing research in partnership with community agencies. Our work involves engaging with people at the coalface who set the agenda, and then supporting them. In turn, we share resources; it’s how social science should be done."

Supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund.