Agency-Bound: Mapping the Temporal-Spatial Relationship between Homeless Individuals and the Social Service Sector

Throughout history homeless individuals, such as tramps and vagabonds, have elicited public fear as a result of their transitory behaviour. Being out-of-place means that they have been seen as a threat to many highly regarded values, such as home, family, and community. Today, while the terms tramp and vagabond may no longer be used, the sentiments behind them remain. Homeless individuals are often portrayed in public discourse, such as the news media, as aimless wanderers who threaten the security of housed citizens. This paper argues that this depiction of the homeless is misleading and incorrect. Drawing on time-geography interviews conducted with homeless youth in Toronto, Canada this paper demonstrates how being homeless is, for many, a highly constricting temporal and spatial experience. Relying on social services for support, food, clothing, and shelter means that homeless individuals must adapt their movements to accommodate the hours established by service agencies. Enforced movement occurs as homeless individuals are drawn in at certain times, such as meal programs and shelter curfews, and forced out at others, such as when shelters close in the morning. Limited funding results in selective offering of programs and hours (for instance, providing breakfast but not lunch). As a result the social service sector produces fragmented programs that keep homeless individuals moving through a routine daily circuit of agencies in order to meet their daily needs. Contrary to the notion of homeless individuals as aimless, this research demonstrates how the conditions of homelessness can cause individuals to become hyper-aware of their location in both time and space. This research has several policy implications, such as the need to increase social service sector funding in order to improve access to essential services, better co-ordinate programs between agencies, and strategically locate agencies based on the transportation available to those who are homeless.

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