We are all only one pay cheque away from a life like this : experiences of unemployment and homelessness at a community shelter in Somerset West, Western Cape

Mordaunt-Bexiga, Michelle Mary (2017-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Within the current economic climate, income and job security concerns are a dominant feature in public policy, day-to-day debates and conversations. The following thesis documents the daily lives of a group of mainly unemployed homeless participants who currently make use of the Somerset West Night Shelter. The thesis began as an investigation into the effects of unemployment, and subsequently the effects of homelessness. The most effective method for this process was to make use of Charmaz’s Grounded Theory approach, taking the form of structured but open-ended, flexible interviews. This led to discussions aimed specifically at facilitating the participants’ recollection of their life stories and lived experiences (2006). The individuals had an opportunity to express their personal narratives freely, without fear of repercussions or judgement. They were encouraged to share their experiences in a safe and controlled environment (the Skills Room of the Shelter), without time pressure, for as long as they wished. I conducted ten individual interviews, whereby all discussions were voice recorded in a confidential, ethical and responsible manner. Whilst participants preferred to use their given names, in order to comply fully with the Stellenbosch University ethics research policy and agreement, they were each allocated a pseudonym. These interviews, together with a summary of each participant’s experience, were paramount in formulating a number of emergent themes (or “pathways”), similar to that proposed by Chamberlain and Johnson. Such “pathways” may have preceded their current situations of unemployment and current homelessness. The dominant themes provide insight into how the participants have become both unemployed and as a result, homeless (2011). Using the theory, I deduce there is no single pathway that predisposes an individual to a critical incident leading to the dual catastrophe of unemployment and homelessness. Instead, several factors combine as a catalyst for such a drastic life change. As revealed in the conclusion of this thesis, a collection of factors, commencing from early childhood, were experienced before the participants became unemployed and subsequently, homeless. Various themes emerged when deconstructing the interviews and it would appear that certain life pathways predispose an individual to unfavourable outcomes. Such factors are aggravated when there is little or no support for destitute individuals to reposition themselves financially, with their family, socially, and most significantly, gainful employment and autonomy. For many of the participants, a lack of education and parental guidance played a significant role in their life choices, and in their current nomadic and unemployed state. A series of life crises Stinson’s theory termed them “critical incidents” that lead to homelessness, characterises most of the participants’ circumstances (2010).

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Met die hedendaagse ekonomiese klimaat, is besorgdheid oor inkomste en werksekerheid ‘n dominante kenmerk in openbare beleid, daaglikse debatte en gesprekke. Hierdie tesis dokumenteer die daaglikse lewe van ‘n groep van meestal werklose hawelose deelnemers wat tans gebruik maak van die Somerset-Wes Nagskuiling. Dié tesis het oorspronkilk begin as ‘n ondersoek na die uitwerking van werkloosheid, en het daarna uitgebrei na die gevolge van haweloosheid. Die mees effektiewe metode vir hierdie proses was om gebruik te maak van Charmaz se gegronde teorie benadering, deur die gebruik van gestruktureerde, maar oop, en buigbare onderhoude. Dit het gelei tot samesprekings wat spesifiek gemik was om die herinnering van deelnemers se lewensverhale en ervarings te fasiliteer (2006). Individue het dus ‘n geleentheid gehad om hul persoonlike verhale vrylik uit te druk, sonder vrees vir gevolge of oordeel. Hulle is aangemoedig om hul ervarings te deel in ‘n veilige en beheerde omgewing (die “Skills Room” van die skuiling), sonder tydbeperking, vir so lank as wat hulle wou. Terwyl deelnemers verkies het om hul eie name te gebruik, is die besluit gemaak dat om ten einde ten volle te voldoen aan die Universiteit van Stellenbosch se etiese navorsingsbeleid en -ooreenkoms, elke deelnemer ‘n skuilnaam toegeken is. Hierdie onderhoude, tesame met ‘n opsomming van elke deelnemer se ervaring, was uiters belangrik in die formulering van ‘n aantal ontluikende temas (of “paaie”), soortgelyk aan dié wat deur Chamberlain en Johnson voorgestel word. Sulke “paaie” kon hul huidige situasies van werkloosheid en haweloosheid voorafgegaan het. Die heersende temas gee insig tot hoe die deelnemers werkloos geword het en as gevolg daarvan, haweloos (2011). Deur gebruik te maak van hierdie teorie, lei ek af dat daar nie slegs ‘n enkele pad is wat ‘n individu lei na ‘n kritieke insident wat aanleiding gee tot die dubbele ramp van werkloosheid en haweloosheid nie. Inteendeel, kombineer verskeie faktore as ‘n katalisator vir so ‘n drastiese lewensverandering. Soos genoem in die gevolgtrekking van hierdie tesis, is verskeie faktore, wat reeds te voorskyn kom in die vroeë kinderjare, deur deelnemers ervaar voordat hulle werkloos, en daarna, haweloos geword het. Verskeie temas het na vore gekom terwyl onderhoude ontleed is en dit wil voorkom asof sekere lewenspaaie ‘n individu vatbaar maak tot ongunstige uitkomstes. Sulke faktore vererger wanneer daar min of geen ondersteuning vir behoeftige individue is om hulself finansieel te vestig nie, asook met hul familie, en sosiaal, en die belangrikste van als, om betaalde werk en outonomie te verkry nie. Vir baie van die deelnemers, speel ‘n gebrek aan opvoeding en ouerleiding ‘n belangrike rol in hul lewenskeuses asook in hul huidige nomadiese leefwyse en werkloosheid. ‘n Reeks lewenskrisisse, volgens Stinson se teorie “kritieke insidente” wat lei tot haweloosheid, is kenmerkend van die meeste deelnemers se omstandighede (2010).

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