Home as a site of ontological security for people who have experienced homelessness: an exploration of community housing as a source of stability, control and safety

Diner, S 2019, Home as a site of ontological security for people who have experienced homelessness: an exploration of community housing as a source of stability, control and safety, Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Home as a site of ontological security for people who have experienced homelessness: an exploration of community housing as a source of stability, control and safety
Author(s) Diner, S
Year 2019
Abstract Housing is a key solution in addressing homelessness. Homelessness is a growing concern within Australia, and, for individuals who are experiencing homelessness, the unaffordability of rent in the private market can present significant challenges. The provision of affordable housing, in the form of community or public housing therefore becomes imperative - but community housing can take many potential forms, not all of which necessarily have the same impact on tenants. The current study investigates the different potential impacts of rooming houses and self-contained units to tease out some of these impacts. It draws on interview and participant observation data from an ethnographic case study that observed the SouthPort Community Housing Group Inc (SouthPort), a local housing provider in Victoria, Australia which provides housing to single people receiving government benefits. SouthPort manage 271 units for single people in the South Melbourne and Port Melbourne areas. However, at the time of research, SouthPort were still operating a rooming house, which does provide shelter and an alternative to rough sleeping, but which would still leave residents classified as homeless according to current understandings of homelessness. At the same time, even tenants who had never lived in SouthPort's own rooming house often had experience of earlier stays in rooming houses offered by other providers. The observational ad interview data therefore allowed for a comparison of tenants' lived experiences and evaluations of different forms of community housing.

A key theoretical concept for this thesis is ontological security and, specifically, how a home acts as a site of ontological security. Traditionally, the literature on ontological security has been heavily focused on the role of home ownership. More recently, however, researchers have begun to examine the different and varying ways that people can experience home as a site of ontological security - including in contexts where the home is not, and can never be, a personal possession. This research has cast new light on the contributing factors of ontological security, and opens up the possible application of this concept to the study of homelessness. This study situates itself within this emerging scholarly subfield, and uses its case study to explore how community housing organisations can enable or hinder tenants' capacity to be ontologically secure - particularly through actions that best support tenants to remain in housing long term.

The ethnographic observations and interviews that form the data for this case study were conducted over the course of a seven-month period at a single community housing organisation, located in inner Melbourne. Alongside observations, 26 semi-structured interviews were conducted with tenants, an ex-tenant, staff and a community housing worker.

The results focus on three key areas - stability, control and safety - to understand whether and how tenants' homes serve as a site of ontological security, and to analyse whether there was a difference between rooming houses and self-contained units in supporting the development of ontological security. In brief, observational and interview data suggest that both rooming houses and self-contained unit could offer some measure of security of tenure to tenants, and thus provide some key elements of the stability needed for ontological security.

Control, by contrast, varied substantially between rooming houses and self-contained units. Rooming house tenants were unable to exert control in their primary space, compared to tenants in a rooming house. The only space that rooming houses tenants had control was their bedroom, but bathroom and kitchen facilities required negotiation with their neighbours.
This absence of control over personal and even intimate dimensions of tenants' lives, greatly hindered the ability of rooming houses to function as a site of ontological security. Self-contained units, however, generally provided the control needed for tenants¿ homes to function as a site of ontological security. Even in self-contained units, however, tenants' interviews suggested that control could still depend on neighbours and their actions in secondary spaces, qualifying the degree to which even self-contained units could satisfy this contributor to tenants' experience of ontological security.

Safety was a concern for tenants in both rooming houses and self-contained units. Rooming houses were seen as unsafe by tenants - due particularly to the presence of drugs, violence and the need to share facilities. Tenants' perceptions of safety within self-contained units varied, with unsafe practices of neighbours again posing a perceived risk to the safety of others who had to live in the same complexes. These safety concerns qualify the extent to which tenants could rely on self-contained units to function as a site of ontological security.

Given the diverse nature of tenants' experiences of home as a site of ontological security, this thesis concludes by suggesting that self-contained units have the capacity to function as a site of ontological security - with significant qualifications that underscore the importance of supporting tenants' control over, and safety within and around, their accommodation. Rooming houses on the other hand, were not seen to be able to function as a site of ontological security due to the lack of control and safety concerns raised during the research.
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Studies
Subjects Urban Sociology and Community Studies
Arts and Cultural Policy
Keyword(s) community housing
homelessness
ontological security
control
safety
stability
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Created: Wed, 03 Jul 2019, 14:43:01 EST by Keely Chapman
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