As part of The Conversation’s Breaking the Cycle series, which is funded by The Footpath Library, 23 people who either were currently homeless, or who had previously experienced homelessness, were interviewed to discover how they view literacy.
Adolescent homelessness and housing instability were common factors contributing to their poor literacy. Dropping out of school at an early age was also a particularly common experience, as were learning disabilities (such as dyslexia), and having endured systemic racism.
They described the experience of not being able to read as being humiliating. Their poor literacy affected them in other areas, including filling in forms, shopping, sending, and receiving emails/text messages, and writing letters.
One interviewee, Luke, described his need for assistance when filling out forms – “I have always had trouble with forms…Everything you’ve got to do nowadays is filling out forms.”
The interviewees unanimously believed that a literacy program for homeless people would improve their quality of life. Literacy classes could also be seen as a stepping stone to engage with educational institutions and finish high school certificates. Some of those interviewed also expressed a desire to improve their skills so that they could become able to read and write for pleasure.
This study strongly highlights how “structural issues in a person’s formative years affect their literacy and life outcomes.” Communities can benefit profoundly from community-based “literacy mediators” who have the skills to enhance the literacy of people experiencing homelessness, and to do so in a safe and inclusive way.
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