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Magazines > Searcher > October 2009
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Vol. 17 No. 9 — October 2009
Information Literacy Training for All
More Outliers
by Lark Birdsong, Birdsong Research

Following up on the article in the September issue, this article describes a collaborative research project between women who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness. My co-authors include Anonymous Researcher #1, Barbara, and Gladys Grisier, with assists by Kathy and Catharine.

The Research Question

The group started with broad questions about women and homelessness. Gladys defined homelessness as “when you can’t receive mail where you sleep.” After discussions, the group narrowed the project focus down to “How to stay healthy (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically) as a woman who is temporarily without a home: What are the top survival tips?”

The Research Process

This collaborative research project included a group of women from The Gathering Place. (“The Gathering Place is Denver’s only daytime drop-in center for women and children who are experiencing homelessness and poverty in Denver.”) The goal was to provide a sidebar for this article in Searcher magazine with research on survival tips that could help other women or men without homes. The project was based around a research question, a research process, and publishing the results to help other women in similar situations.

Typically, a population like this who have lost jobs or homes have also lost private connectivity, software, and their own computers. If they do have computers, they typically don’t have connectivity. Now they must use what is available to the public. The Gathering Place (TGP) women used public computers at the public library and within TGP as one of their research tools. Google Docs was the software all the research group members used. The computing cloud was the only way we could collaborate with our questions and share our results. Each group had a section with their name and shared their research and questions in their area for others to read.

After defining the question, the group used the information literacy concepts learned to find authoritative answers. They went to the library; used online databases there and Google Scholar; interviewed other people; went to other establishments that work with individuals without homes; and located books, articles, and pamphlets. One concept I teach is that there are three sources of information, with each source having several subcategories: people (other people who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness, people who help those without homes, people who research homelessness, etc.), places (libraries, government resources, other shelters), and things (the internet, books, articles, magazines, etc.). The women did a great job of using all three categories to find information. When it comes to homelessness, these women are the experts and are uniquely qualified to analyze the validity of information.

Each research team member had to find at least one scholarly article that was spot on and analyze and review it. After completing the gathering phase, the team compiled possible tips and summarized their findings in Google Docs. Throughout the research process the group used the INPFAC model (discussed in the September 2009 issue of Searcher and linked here: to solve problems and find answers. If the researchers could not find full-text articles, I would assist by using the databases available to me to locate these articles. Prospector, a data service stemming from a partnership of 23 academic, public, and special libraries in Colorado and Wyoming, offered free access to more than 16 million books, CDs, DVDs, videotapes, and other materials. I used it to find books not available within our immediate libraries. As a last step, the group evaluated all the tips. Through that process, patterns emerged and a set of “top tips” was agreed upon by the group.

The Results

1. First Time Homeless: First time homeless individuals find safe resources in an area by going to the library, police department (“don’t go if there if you have a warrant out on you”), and asking other street people or church members and staff.

Always be careful in your approach.

Go to a church to ask about “safe” resources.

Small cities usually have less resources available. You might want to consider moving to a bigger city. This is a big decision, so think about it a lot before you decide.

2. Exercise:
Do some forms of physical exercise such as walking, yoga, aerobics, stretching, running, taking the stairs, bike riding, water sports, dance classes, or hiking.

Keep moving to let out the stress.

You must do some activity. Even when you don’t want to, push yourself or what you are going through will weigh you down too much. Take the stairs, walk a bit more, stretch.

3. Resources:
Use the quality resources available to homeless women to stay healthy and help move out of homelessness.

Use free clinics and support services for health matters, dental, GED/schools, legal matters, and to find housing. Churches also have food and help.

Many shelters let you have an address at their location so you can get mail. Find a shelter that you trust.

Get a library card! It opens up a lot of resources and gives you connectivity on the internet.

You need education, so put it in your plan and look for resources for getting educated on computers and earning your GED or high school diplomas as a minimum.

Use resources for moods and mental health problems.

Use public transportation assistance.

Use showers. Keep clean to not look “bumish.”

Take advantage of all available resources, including street men who have more experience in homelessness. They are a wealth of current information.

Use resources that don’t cost money.

See if acquaintances have a few bucks to share. Panhandle if needed.

Find groups that allow you to express yourself and get ideas on how to handle unhealthy issues in your life.

4. Attitude:
A good attitude is needed and will help solve your homelessness faster.

Keep hopeful. Believe that you will get out of shelters.

You will make bad decisions. That’s OK, just learn from them.

Learn to resolve your dilemmas and problems. You are accountable, but don’t wallow in problems.

Attribute your situation to being down on your luck so you have hope that you will get out of it.

Think about a personal identity of yourself that is positive and that you feel good about. Tell yourself if someone else can do it (get out of homelessness), so can you!

Develop confidence with small accomplishments and steps forward that you take each day.

Ask for help; it is necessary to get out of homelessness.

Stay around people who have your best interest at heart.

Take a leap of faith. Believe that you can better yourself.

Most people are good and helpful; find those people as resources.

If you get a “no” and need a “yes,” keep trying. There is a yes out there. You “MUST PERSEVERE!”

When down on your luck, trust yourself to judge people. Get the right person to help you and know that some people are not there to help you.

Keep an attitude that you won’t become homeless again and, once off the streets, determine not to be homeless again.

Have a strong sense of self, and you will make it.

5. Plan and Strategy:
Make a plan. It will get you out of homelessness faster.

Decision-making skills are improved and less impulsive with planning.

Create a strategy to get the resources you need.

Associate with people who are strong, meaning they have it together and are not falling apart because of not having a home.

Take advantage of logistics if necessary, e.g., work at night in a warm factory so you can sleep during the day when it’s warmer.

Carry plastic containers for take-out; you will be hungry later when meals are finished.

6. Activities and Classes:
Do what interests you and what you need to do, but you must continually do something.

Laugh your way to better health.

Take learning sessions on self-esteem, self-confidence.

Go to the park, library, crafts and knitting classes, gardening. Read.

Watch and appreciate nice things in nature like birds and trees.

Try meditation/relaxation techniques.

Listen to soft music for relaxation.

Volunteer to incorporate yourself into the community and get outside of your problem. Others have problems too.

Take classes so you can gain knowledge, get jobs, and understand the process you are going through. Educate yourself. Education is a path out of homelessness.

Go to free days at the zoo, botanical gardens, art museum.

7. Faith:
Some spiritual, religious or faith thinking is helpful.

Use a church and pray if it helps.

Have faith in yourself.

Talk with God if you need a boost.

Talk to a counselor or pastor if you’re depressed, lonely, stressed, or feel like it is the end of world.

8. Safety:
You have to watch out.

Sometimes you need to lay low and remain anonymous.

Guarding is a constant and necessary activity to protect your mental and physical health.

Women actively watch over their own and other’s children; watchfulness and carefulness are necessary.

Stay alert and anticipate problems before they arise.

Protect yourself in a shelter; people will steal!  

A Profound Experience

As the author of this article and a research participant, I saw the pride and effort each researcher took throughout the search process. They developed the research question fully. After defining the question, they used the information literacy skills they had acquired to find quality sources in the library (both online and by visiting the library), by talking with other people, and by reading books and articles. As they analyzed the material they found to be insightful information, they integrated it with their own experiences and produced all the top tips to answer the research question. I can see why these women are moving (and some have) away from homelessness. I have great admiration for them. It was a privilege to work with them. They have the “right stuff.”

Key References

1. Hodnicki, Donna R., Sharon D. Horner, and Joyceen S. Boyle, “Women’s Perspectives on Homelessness,” Public Health Nursing, vol. 9, no. 4, 1992, pp. 257–262.

2. Connor, Ann, Catherine G. Ling, Johanna Tuttle, and Belinda Brown-Tezera, “Peer Education Project With Persons Who Have Experienced Homelessness,” Public Health Nursing, vol.16, no. 5, 1999, pp. 367–373.

3. “Homeless Women, Street Smarts,” PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, vol. 10, 2001. Retrieved April 28, 2009 [].

4. Walters, Susan and Linda East, “The Cycle of Homelessness in the Lives of Young Mothers: The Diagnostic Phase of an Action Research Project,” Journal of Clinical Nursing, vol. 10, 2001, pp. 171–179.

5. Snow, David A. and Leon Anderson, Down on Their Luck: A Study of Homeless Street People. Berkeley, Calif. University California Press, 1993.

6. Multiple interviews with other women who are or have been homeless.

7. Materials from shelters showing resources.

Lark Birdsong provides training for effective web and online search, selection of quality sources, and organization of information to small and medium-sized businesses and individuals. She has an M.B.A. in finance and accounting, a master’s in education, and is nearing completion of an M.L.I.S. degree from the University of Washington. Contact her via email at or visit her webpage [] or weblog [].
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