Home is not a House: A History of Housing Security and Homelessness

10-28-2019 - By Elizabeth Standridge (Senior, History Major)

October 28, 2019

By Elizabeth Standridge (Senior, History Major)

In spring semester 2019, Dr. Lara Kelland approached me about the possibility of working on an exhibit. She had been asked by John Begley and Peter Morrin of the Afloat project if she would create an exhibit on behalf of the University of Louisville as a part of the consortium.

Kelland developed the idea of considering the phenomena of shantyboating – living aboard a makeshift houseboat– as a means of alternative housing. Expanding on this idea, she proposed looking into housing in Louisville and exploring how Louisvillians have struggled to create a home for a variety of reasons. From here, Dr. Kelland, Heather Fox, and I joined forces with St. John Center for Homeless Men which allowed us use of their archival records and connected us with participants and staff within their Permanent Supportive Housing Program. The program operates on a housing first basis, getting individuals experiencing homelessness housed, and helping them to stay housed through lifelong case management.

As a part of the exhibit, I conducted four oral history interviews with five people from this program. We talked about their lives, their experience with homelessness, their view of the program, and finally their ideas about the meaning of “home.” For purposes of display, particularly salient excerpts from the interviews were cut and assembled into an audio compilation which will be played as a part of the exhibit. These interviews were by far my favorite part of the creating the exhibit as they allowed people who had experienced homelessness themselves to share their stories. The oral histories were also accessioned into the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections, making their stories and thoughts on homelessness and the Permanent Supportive Housing program a permanent part of the historical record.

The exhibit will be displayed from October 14- December 1, 2019 at the Louisville Free Public Library Main Branch, Bernheim Gallery.