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Opportunities for Humanization in the Relationship Between Service Providers and Their Homeless Clients

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Title: Opportunities for Humanization in the Relationship Between Service Providers and Their Homeless Clients
Author(s): Hidalgo, Benjamin E.
Director of Research: Aber, Mark S.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Aber, Mark S.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Kral, Michael; Ramirez Garcia, Jorge I.; Allen, Nicole E.; Shpungin, Elain; Schwandt, Thomas A.
Department / Program: Psychology
Discipline: Psychology
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): homelessness homeless humanization service provider dehumanization Carl Rogers, Martin Buber, Paolo Freire, meaning making
Abstract: The goal of this study was to uncover examples of and possibilities for humanization in the relationship between service providers and their homeless clients. Humanization, simply defined in this study, is the process through which a person stands in relation to another person in a way that affirms her or his humanity and human potential. This concept of humanization is further delineated through the construction of an initial theoretical definition borrowing from the theories of Carl Rogers, Martin Buber, and Paolo Freire. The initial conceptualization of humanization led me to look for evidence of specific phenomena in each of three dimensions: (1) space for a client or guest to freely move in a way consistent with her or his own meaning making system, (2) a provider or volunteer who not only did not reduce the other, but was open to be changed by her or him, and (3) the ability of the client or guest to engage in critical reflection and action on the structural circumstances that presently defined her or his life. An interpretive epistemological framework was adopted for the study. Fifteen providers of service and care to homeless populations were interviewed across three sites in the local community. Data analysis occurred at two levels. One analysis explored themes related to the basic shape of the relationships and the ways in which the providers constructed them. A second analysis explored, more directly, themes related to each of these three dimensions. Initial analysis revealed themes related to the basic construction of the relationship between providers and their guests and clients they serve as, well as the role of humanization in these relationships. Along the three dimensions of the construct, it was found that relationships were largely humanizing along dimensions one and two, with some important exceptions related to program model and provider mental health. There was evidence that the relationships were humanizing in a way that only partially met the criteria for dimension three. A set of eight findings was subsequently developed through further analysis and interpretation of the initial results. (1) Clients set the goals in the relationship but little else. (2) Despite language of client-centered responses to homelessness, it might be organization meaning-making systems and not the person who is homeless that is at the center of these relationships. (3) People who were homeless were seen as fully agentic in regard to service-seeking. (4) Service providers intervened to correct perceived client resource-deficiency in a way that possibly denies clients the power to operate on the world according to their own meaning making systems. (5) Participants largely operated on an individual level of ecological analysis. (6) For the most part, participants saw the people they served as irreducible. (7) Participants failed to demonstrate a fundamental openness to self-transformation based on encounters with their homeless clients and guests. (8) There was little evidence of space for action-reflection from clients. Two of these eight findings contributed to an examination of possible qualifications to the conceptualization of humanization when applied to these specific relationship contexts. These two provider truths: (1) that clients/guests have agency when entering the relationships and (2) that practical limitations arise from setting characteristics and preservation of the psychological well-being of providers, challenge the original construction of humanization. A consideration of these truths, as subjectively experienced by the providers, allowed for a discussion suggesting a possible pathway for arriving at a new understanding of the term humanization. This new understanding would be constructed jointly out of provider interpretive frameworks, as future community partners in collaborative efforts in promoting humanization, and my own interpretive framework, as a community researcher. Strategies for promoting humanization in these relationships are considered based on the findings. These include (1) increasing critical awareness and multi-level analysis in developing solutions on the part of providers, (2) emphasizing care for the care givers in order to free up emotional capital so that providers can more fully engage people who are homeless, and (3) including the voices of people who are homeless into fundamental design and implementation decisions around an organization’s response to homelessness. Finally, more aggressive methods for promoting humanization are examined including (1) a fundamental restructuring of the mission of organizations responding to homelessness such that humanization is seen as a primary outcome goal and (2) the fundamental restructuring of the relationship between providers and people who are homeless such that people who are homeless are equal or senior partners in designing the response to homelessness and enlist the services of providers on terms dictated by their own, natively developed, response strategies.
Issue Date: 2011-01-14
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/18359
Rights Information: Copyright 2010 Benjamin Hidalgo
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-01-14
Date Deposited: 2010-12
 

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