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The Homeless: The Other

Erin Wen
Etobicoke School of the Arts

With its origins dating as far back as the fifteenth century, colonialism has a long and farreaching history (Prasad, 2003). As a collection of different practices, from expansion to
exploitation, ultimately the objective of the colonized peoples remained the same - the
attempted domination and subjugation of the colonized (Prasad, 2003). From the processes of
colonization, post-colonialism addresses the various structures that are formed as a result,
namely in this theory, oppression by means of othering and the power of language (Prasad,
2003). In our modern day society, the consequences of colonialism are still very much present as
they can be identified as the cause of the stigma towards the homeless in Westernized,
industrialized societies. By applying Edward Saids post-colonialism theory of othering to the
homeless community, it demonstrates the dilemma of representation which in turn can only be
resolved by acting as a border crosser, acknowledging the power one holds as a colonizer and
using it to undermine and transform social, political, and economical barriers for the better.
In Saids Orientalism, he demystified the construction of the Other through an analysis
of the European-American production and management of the Orient as a means of maintaining
power (Salazar, 2008). Through an unreflective viewpoint, Asians and Muslims were falsely
represented in a way that has less to do with the Orient than it does with our world (Salazar,
2008). Likewise, in our modern society Saids theory of othering is evident through the
concept of us - settled, working people, versus them - the homeless. In a sense, this is not
necessarily a bad thing until the us that holds more power and privilege begins to use language
as an oppressive force to obtain control over them (McInnis, 2002). Paralleling colonialism, in
present day the good, hard-working people that contribute to our society as colonizers,
manipulate language as a reinforcer to control the colonized (McInnis, 2002). By manufacturing,

spreading, and believing in allegations and/or over-generalizations towards the homeless, it

effectively contributes to the stigma and works against a resolution. Moreover, by using this
language it is understandable as to why people would believe in misconceptions such as all
homeless people are drug addicts or are too lazy to get a job, since living in a complex world,
we naturally comprehend things by grouping and naming them (Salazar, 2008). Looking at
homelessness through a post-colonialism lens, it emphasizes the uniformity that the colonizer
sought after as individuals within the homeless community become identified and
misrepresented by the ideologies formed from the perspective of the indifferent colonizer
(Prasad, 2003).
In order to rid of the stigma towards homelessness, from a post-colonial point of view,
one must become a border crosser. As a border crosser one must essentially step out of their
own comfort zone, both physical and mental, to criticize and transform these borders that we
have created as the colonizer(s) (Giroux, 1992). We must as individuals and as a society
reinvent traditions - change the conversation, challenge the widespread misconceptions, and
empathize with the community that we have undermined and misrepresented for so long to the
best of our ability (Giroux 1992). Paulo Freire suggests that we must move away from home, a
physical and mental place of safety that has been created by building cultural, social, and
political boundaries that make us as individuals and a society feel comfortable (Giroux, 1992).
Consequently by moving away from home, we become homeless by taking initiative to
intellectually and spatially eliminate these borders and crossing over into terrains of otherness
(Giroux, 1992). In a sense this encourages the process of the decolonization of the mind as we
transform the former ideologies we have created as the result of colonialism (Prasad, 2003).

However, this is not a simple task as we must tear down these far-reaching barriers that have
been indoctrinated within our society between the colonizer and the colonized.
Within Canada, the Northern Lights Health Foundation runs the I Am A Person First
campaign, inviting community members to help reduce the stigma towards the homeless (NLHF,
2016) . Their mission welcomed those whom regularly communicate and work with homeless
individuals to speak about their first-hand experience, thus inspiring other individuals and
organizations to challenge their own stigmatized perceptions and encouraging them to help make
changes (NLHF, 2016). The I Am A Person First campaign brings about many goals and
solutions towards ridding the stigma towards homelessness. First, we must acknowledge that
there is a stigma and what it is, thus we can begin to understand the foundations of these
misconceptions that can be broken down by challenging the ideas of others as well as yourself.
In order to break down the stigma we must also break down barriers and communicate with those
that are actually experiencing these issues first-hand. Ultimately, we must be assertive in
educating ourselves and others on the reality of homeless individuals. Just by inviting a
conversation and asking questions one can debunk the misconceptions they hold towards the
homeless community and learn something new.
Ridding of the stigma towards the homeless is not an easy task, nor is it something that
can be planned out with a specific guideline or timeline to follow. Instead it is taking matters into
your own hands, continuously challenging and questioning the beliefs of others as well as
yourself, standing up for, but not speaking on behalf of, individuals that are misrepresented, and
most importantly recognizing your own privilege and power as a tool for change.

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McInnis, G. (2002, March 18). The Struggle of Postmodernism and Postcolonialism. Retrieved
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Northern Lights Health Foundation. (2016). Homelessness Stigma Reduction Campaign has
Strong Impact in Fort McMurray | Northern Lights Health F. Retrieved February 7, 2016, from

Prasad, A. (2003). Postcolonial theory and organizational analysis: A critical engagement.

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Salazar, Noel B. (2008). Representation in postcolonial analysis. In W. A. Darity (Ed.),

International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (2nd ed., Vol. 7, pp. 172-173). Retrieved
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