Voice and Empowerment
By: Brad Toy

      As the homeless gain access to the Internet they will need to develop voice and empowerment.  Both of these will lead to a better life for them.  Self-esteem and confidence is the key to gaining voice.  The use of computers themselves will help the homeless develop voice.  Empowerment will come as voice builds, but will also depend on other social factors as well.

Voice and Empowerment

      Much is being done today to narrow the “digital divide” for the homeless, and Dr. Christine Boese’s English 102 class is trying to help narrow that divide.  Homeless people can now go to libraries to use computers to gain access to the Internet, and computers and Internet access are being given to shelters just for them.  There are classes offered such as StreetWrites (http://www.realchangenews.org/StreetWrites/) in Seattle Washington and web sites offering tutorials, such as BeHeard (http://www.nutball.com/beheard) and Mike Davidson’s Homeless People (http://members.tripod.com/~bmdavidson/index.html) and the Internet.  But when they get on the Internet are they going to speak out and be heard or remain silent?  If they sit in silence how do we give them voice or empowerment?

      If the homeless people who use the Internet speak out and empower themselves many good things could happen for them.  There are discussion lists, newsgroups and message boards out there for them.  These things could really be helpful to them they could find out where the best shelters are, which cities are harsh on vagrants, and where there is an empty building to squat in.  They could get help and give help to each other but only if they speak up.  These systems and forums are only helpful if people participate in them but if you they feel silenced they might be afraid to ask questions such as where can they go to get some medicine or a hot meal.  

      If the homeless people can empower themselves on the Internet they might be able to bring about change in some way that they could benefit from.  There are dozens of sites on the Internet trying to help empower the homeless.  Not everyplace tries to help the homeless some places find them as a annoyance and have them locked up.  But it doesn’t have to be this way they can change things.


     Having voice in the context that I use it with in this paper means not the ability to speak but the ability to speak out in public and expresses oneself.  Part of having voice is to be self-confident.  “Since confidence is closely linked to self-esteem” (Maude, 30), then self-esteem is an important factor in having voice.  Many people in society such as woman, minorities and homeless people have low self-esteem and low self-confidence due to difficult situations in life.  Therefore they feel that they might feel silenced and have an absence of voice, and they don’t speak up or advocate for themselves.  An example of why a homeless person might feel silenced on the Internet as given to me by my English 102 professor follows; Take this hypothetical homeless man Jeremy.  Every mourning Jeremy goes down to the local library to use the Internet.  He looks for jobs, gets his news, and views a few of the web pages devoted to the homeless.  Jeremy also reads the forums and discussion lists yet he does not participate, he has questions he wants to ask but he can’t speak up he feels that know one want to hear what he has to say, so he keeps quit.  This all goes back to when he first got on the Internet before he discovered these forums.  He would go in to chat rooms and they people with in would be talking about things such as the stock market or computer games, things he doesn’t no much about.  But he tries to talk he brings up things he enjoys and know about such maybe sports or food and people ignore him or change the subject.  He fells like what he has to say doesn’t matter and become silenced and from then on only watches and reads but does not participate, but he deserves his voice back.

      Another example of someone feeling voiceless is given by the author Maxine Hong Kingston in her autobiography The Woman Warrior .  She is a Chinese American that had a hard time speaking out when she was younger.  She is not and to my knowledge never been homeless but that is not important.  This example helps show the silence that some people may feel.  Some people feel silenced because of cultural reasons and others because they feel that no one cares about what they will say.  She says that she had a terrible time talking and when she did her voice would come out so quiet, people would ask her to repeat her self and it would come out quieter yet.  She had trouble with even simple things such as hello.  She talks about how even “ a telephone call makes [her] throat bleed and takes up and day’s courage” (Kingston, 584).  She even failed kindergarten because she did not talk.  She says though that “reading out loud was easier than speaking because we did not have to make up what to say”(Kingston, 585).  This comment shows that it wasn’t the sound of her voice that is the problem but what she actually says when she speaks.  Not that what she says is stupid but maybe of how people will view her because she is different because she is Chinese.  Maybe homeless people will feel silenced because they are homeless.  As a homeless person panhandles on the street many people walk by avoiding them to the point that they don’t even look their way.  People treat them as scum and this could leave them feeling to unimportant to speak.  
      In order to over come feeling silenced one would likely need to build up their self-esteem and self-confidence.  When you feel better about yourself more than likely you would be able to speak up.  The use of computers and the Internet themselves might be helpful in developing voice.  In 1995 an article in Educational Leadership said, “the use of computers can provide special needs students with recognition and support and can help to enhance self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation” (Ryba et al).  Though the homeless aren’t necessarily special needs students most likely it would help them build voice.  If you get them to realize that you can type a message and decide later not to send it, but once you have it written it’s easy to just click send.  The more you use the Internet the better you will feel about speaking up on it.  In time all computer’s will find their voices.


      Empowerment is the process by which people such as those that are disabled, woman, the elderly, and others who lack power who usually experience “barriers to participation” “ reduced influence” or simply conditions some what harsher than other members of their society; gain some kind of control of certain aspects or their lives in which before they had no control over (Fawcett et al, 471).  Empowerment can be of an individual or a whole social grouping society.  The goal of some Internet sites such as The Real Change (http://www.realchangenews.org/RCHEP/) is to give empowerment to the Homeless by giving them a voice on the Internet where they can share literary and artistic expressions.  For homeless empowerment can be something as simple as earning a few dollars selling street papers instead of relaying on shelters for food.  Empowerment can also be something much more complicated such as a group of disabled Americans working together to pass laws for better access to public facilities.  
      In August of 1994 the American Journal of Community Psychology printed an article about the empowerment of people with disabilities.  In this article the many authors stated 4 methods in which to enhance empowerment that could be possibility used for the homeless as well.  These methods are “enhancing experience and competence”, “protecting and maintaining physical and biological capacity”, “removing stressors and barriers”, and “enhancing support and resources”(Fawcett et al).

      To enhance empowerment by “enhancing experience and competence” one must have the knowledge about what goals they will need to have to empower themselves and the skills to reach these goals.  One should also know about failed past events in history at attempts of empowerment and their own personal values so they what kind of control they are willing to reach (Fawcett).
      In the process of empowerment one must know their own “physical and biological capacity”.  A person or groups physical and metal status determines to what extent there empowerment can be enhanced.  Any impairment of any sense or the mind can limit the extent of power in which a person can gain over his or her own surroundings.  A man in the late stages of Alzheimer’s has less of degree of empowerment than that of a blind man, and much less than that say of the homeless (Fawcett et al).
      There are five “stressors or barriers” that also affect empowerment.  These are lack or opportunity, poverty and deprivation, environmental hazards, punishment and behavioral requirements, and discrimination (Fawcett).  All the above barriers affect the level of empowerment that can be reached.  All which may have a negative affect on ones life and how they control it.  When a group of people does not have the opportunity for jobs or they are poverty stricken its hard to empower ones self.  Some of these barriers may lead to other problems such as poor physical or mental health that in its self may have a negative affect on empowerment.  
     There are seven elements of “support and resources” that affect the status of empowerment.  They are culture, laws and regulations, available resources, information and prompts, support from family and friends, mentors and models, and positive reinforcement (Fawcett).  For a person or a group of people to empower themselves it’s going to take a little help.  Weather it is financial contributions or support from your family and friends it all helps enhance your empowerment status.  For example finances and support from friends would help support a computer center with witch homeless people can empower themselves on the Internet.  Available resources such as libraries and shelters for these homeless computer centers would also have a great affect on their empowerment.  Now with the Internet’s popularity many sites have emerged fighting for empowerment for the homeless.

      As homeless people get on the Internet it will be important that they have voice and empowerment.  Being able to speak up for yourself is the ideal way to give yourself empowerment.  But not all homeless will be able to speak out until they build up more self-esteem and self-confidence.  The actual use of computer should help the homeless become more confident and help them build self-esteem.  In time as they spend more time online they will find their voice and therefore find empowerment.




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