Historical context, preference, and capabilities : a case study of indigenous peoples’ homelessness experiences in Seattle, USA
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In order to create effective responses that acknowledge the diversity of homelessness and its contributing factors, it is beneficial to look at extreme cases. Indigenous peoples continually rank near the bottom of nearly every US social, health, and economic indicator (Alba et al. 2003). Furthermore, data consistently indicate that Indigenous peoples remain overrepresented among the homeless population in the US. This thesis aims to explain the experiences of homelessness amongst Indigenous peoples in the US and the impact that current emergency accommodation options have on their ability to live a well-lived life. It uses Martha Nussbaum's (2011) Capability Approach – encompassing ten "essential" capabilities required to live a well-lived life – to inform the analysis of the empirical case study data presented. The thesis begins by investigating the extent to which US colonialism and historical housing and homelessness policies account for the disproportionate risk of homelessness experienced by Indigenous peoples. It moves on to examine the extent to which the currently available forms of emergency accommodation impact on the capabilities of Indigenous peoples, as understood through the lens of Nussbaum’s framework. Finally, Nussbaum's capabilities are further drawn on while seeking to explain the role played by the characteristics of emergency accommodation in accounting for the decision of some Indigenous peoples in the US to sleep rough. This thesis uses a case study approach with the city of Seattle as its focus, which has the third-largest homeless population in the US, and a highly disproportionate number of Indigenous peoples affected. The fieldwork undertook a total of 14 interviews with key stakeholders and 30 interviews with Indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness in Seattle, as well as a review of local statistics and research reports. This thesis argues that centuries of colonialism, racially segregated housing, housing discrimination, and forced relocation affected Indigenous peoples’ ability to accumulate generational wealth and secure housing. Other findings suggest Indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness often prioritise control over their safety and health while also giving importance to cultural identity in navigating emergency accommodation options. The environmental conditions of emergency shelters required Indigenous peoples to compromise and prioritise between capabilities and often, as a result, influenced their decision to sleep rough. Emergency shelter options in Seattle do not support physical recovery, provide safety, or support the facilitation of connecting to other necessary immediate and long-term resources and housing programmes. The thesis also argues that Nussbaum's Capability Approach should be modified by changing the definitions of specific capabilities to accommodate Indigenous peoples’ experiences of homelessness.