The HOBOhemia project is unique in many ways. It is the first comparative research on homelessness in the Czech Republic, which is focused on previously neglected topics such as specific time and timing of the activities of the homeless persons. As working with homeless people belonging to various categories of homelessness, it brings a new perspective to the dynamics of living in those types. The combination of research methods used in the project is also unique - as one of a few in Europe it uses empirical GPS devices for studying mobility. In the Czech Republic,it applies the previously unused method of RDS (respondent driven sampling) survey. The surveys and structured interviews are completed with ethnography and photovoice. It put strong emphasis on the active participation of the homeless in the data-collection. Apart from other results, the project provides visually attractive unique data about the situation of homeless persons and their space-time mobility within the cities of Prague and Pilsen.
Homelessness in the Czech Republic had been an un-researched phenomenon for a long time. For example, the first homeless census was not conducted until 2004. It has changed recently. The issue has become very interesting for many researchers as well as various institutions such as NGOs, state administration units, etc. People on the streets are most often conceptualised by their access(or lack of) to various forms of housing. The European ETHOS (European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion) categorization, for example, divides the homeless into four basic types: 1) rooflessness, 2) houselessness, 3) in insecure housing, and 4) in inadequate housing. Since 2004,many local censuses were conducted (in Brno, Plzen, Ostrava, etc.) as well as individual research. Usually, existing studies focus on the first and second category, i.e. so called visible, or literally homelessness. The Hobohemia project is trying to not only extend the target group of its research activities, but also through its more complex methodological and thematic focus to better understand this phenomenon.
The innovative approach
This research project studies homeless persons comprehensively through categories. It is so, because the situation of homeless persons changes over time. Their housing conditions change, or even their life strategies. Moreover, they also establish social interactions through mentioned categories, as they have similar life strategies, social trajectories, or do similar activities. The target group of this project includes all categories of the ETHOS typology, or more precisely the literal, the latent but also the potential homelessness. The project studies them in a long term perspective and tries to look at life on the street in different seasonal rhythms. It is also because it puts an emphasis on participation of the homeless persons, who explain to researchers how, what and why are things done on the streets. Usage of the innovative methods and techniques such as photovoice, GPS tracking, personal networks analysis and other help to engage homeless people into the research and gain real and complex information about their life and issues of the homelessness in general. Many of the used methods and techniques have been employed only in very few cases within this environment, some of them have not been used at all, which contributes to the uniqueness of this project in the international context. The project follows up the long-term research of the principal investigator.
The project focuses on four basic goals:
- to identify the characteristics of homeless persons, their life trajectories and causes of their homelessness
- to describe patterns of spatial and temporal mobility of homeless persons in urban space and the factors which influence them
- from the perspective of the homeless to describe places and locations they inhabit in public space, and which are used by those persons for their activities
- to describe their time-perception and uncover where it comes from
The social impact
We are trying to implement our project in a socially responsible way. Through various activities, we want to problematize widespread stereotypes about homeless people and thus help to build a better knowledge and understanding of their situation. During the project we have spoken at dozens of events for professionals and general public. These included events popularizing science (e.g. Week of Science and Technology, Different City Experience, etc.), as well as conferences in the Czech Republic and abroad (Bristol, London, Krakow et al.). As guests, we also presented at several forums for Czech officials. We have organized several events such as two meetings for homeless people, a workshop for participants working with the homeless and several workshops focused on social network analyses. We use visual data (photographs, maps) collected during the research to increase the impact of the project on general public. We communicate the results via social media (Facebook, Twitter), but also in cooperation with traditional Czech (Week, iDnes, Radio Wave, Czech Radio, etc.) and foreign media (Guardian, Cultour Magazine). All the data collected during the project are presented in such a way as to avoid any harm to the participants. The project itself is made possible thanks to a collaboration with local NGOs and administrative authorities, to whom we hereby thank. We also wish to thank to all the participating homeless men and women.