For our behaviour change project ‘Humans of Leamington Spa’, we wanted to raise awareness about homelessness. In particular, we wanted to stress the variety of reasons that can lead to homeless and show how those unfortunate events could happen to YOU.
It only takes a cascade of unfortunate events such as domestic abuse, debt, disability and poor health to lead to loosing one’s home and consequently having nowhere to turn.
Attitudes towards the homeless often lead to discriminating them as the ‘outgroup’. Therefore, subsequent prejudice and negative attitudes towards them lead to stigmatisation. What is forgotten is that these people have often had a tough battle with bereavement, abuse and drug addictions. All of which require a tough mental and physical battle on a daily basis. These people are no different to you or I. They have feelings, goals and aspirations and shouldn’t be shunned from society.
To put into perspective how ubiquitous homelessness is, statistics from the Salvation Army reveal that 35% of homelessness is due to job loss, 15% due to high bills and low wages, 10% due to poor health, sickness and disability.
Firstly, we got in contact with the Salvation Army in Leamington Spa and started volunteering weekly at the homeless drop-ins. This was to establish a relationship with those living on the streets, as well as to investigate the opportunities available to help and support them. These relationships encouraged the people in the drop-in centre to confide in us, and discuss personal details about their lives, and how they came to be homeless. It is unlikely that they would have felt willing to disclose this information without a prior relationship, so we feel our time there was extremely worthwhile, both for us (in the context of the project), and also for them, as when homeless it can feel as though no one is interested in you. This can have a detrimental effect on your own self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect.
We decided the most powerful tool for changing attitudes would be a video using images, statistics, music and testimonies. We knew that a video would be a powerful tool because we could circulate it via social media, which has the capacity to reach groups of people we don’t directly know, therefore has more chance to change attitudes.
In our video we emphasised the contrast between living in ‘North’ Leamington, the wealthier part represented by consumer culture against the isolated, forgotten spaces where homeless people seek refuge.
Our main message was ‘this could happen to YOU’. We used the persuasive technique of repetition and hyperbole to emphasise that no one is protected from certain life events that may lead to homelessness. We also wanted to shatter the illusion that all homeless people are the same, and homeless purely because of decisions like drug use, or gambling. No one chooses to live on the street. The repetition of “YOU” is an example of the self-referencing effect, whereby encode information better if it is relevant to the self. These techniques also tie in with the testimonials, which convey the parallels between the past lives of the homeless, and the current lives of those watching the videos. For example, one interviewee discusses how she had a husband and a large house, which she eventually lost. This may hit home to the viewers, as it gives them something to relate to.
Braverman, J. (2008). Testimonials versus informational persuasive messages: The moderating effect of delivery mode and personal involvement. Communication Research, 35(5), 666-694.
Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1979). Effects of message repetition and position on cognitive response, recall, and persuasion. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 37(1), 97-109.
The Salvation Army. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2017, from https://www.salvationarmy.org.uk/