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Archaeology of Homelessness Public Forum: Indianapolis December 2011

7 Dec

homeless people from Indianapolis Dec 2011

I was very happy to be invited back to Indianapolis to speak at a public forum about homelessness, organised by students from Dr Larry Zimmerman and Dr Elizabeth Kryder-Reid’s 2011 “Issues in Cultural Heritage” class at Indiana University. The forum was hosted by the very impressive Indianapolis Central Library, a place many homeless people from the city use often.

Speakers at the event included Courtney Singleton whose Masters research focussed on homelessness and poverty in Indianapolis and Jessica Welch who has experienced homelessness herself and has now completed a degree in anthropology and psychology (IUPUI, 2008). A book created by the students that takes in much of Singleton’s research area can be viewed here

It was encouraging that so many homeless people attended the forum and interesting to hear their views on homelessness and what might be done about it. What is clear is that although the root causes of homelessness would appear to differ between the UK and America, the survival strategies employed by homeless people remain very similar. Two of the homeless people Courtney worked with most closely, Amanda and Daniel, kindly offered to give us a tour of their camp this afternoon, which I’m very much looking forward to. Amanda and Daniel want to show us how things have changed since Courtney was there last and introduce her to some new members of the camp, people made homeless recently.


Of dogs and stuff: the case of Rosie Lee

24 Nov

I called Annie. We talked about stuff and moved onto Rosie, Annie’s dog. Annie’s MS (Multiple Sclerosis) person and her ‘brilliant’ (Annie’s word) key worker think that owning a dog is good for Annie. Annie’s tenancy agreement might have other ideas. Annie’s dog is called Rosie but I first knew the dog as Rosie Lee. I have known Rosie for almost a year. Rosie used to belong to another homeless woman I knew.

We’d all been for a walk (Rosie Lee, her person, my two dogs and a mutual friend) around Blaise Castle, one Sunday morning. It was early enough in January 2011 that we saw no-one else for two hours. We were a bimbling pack – three happy dogs, running in woods, and three people noticing snowflakes and sunrise. After the walk, we went back to my unheated, unsociably spaced out flat and cooked bacon sandwiches. I took this picture a little later.

'The good Lord gave us...three things to make life bearable, hope, jokes and dogs, but the greatest of these was dogs', Robyn Davidson


This is Rosie, Annie’s dog.

Rosie’s first owner had some troubles. Rosie became Annie’s dog shortly after this photo was taken (Jan 2011).

I have seen Rosie at Annie’s flat and she is Annie’s dog. She looks to Annie. She communicates with Annie. She guards where Annie sleeps and they look out for one another. They have a very healthy relationship that enhances self-esteem (in both Annie and Rosie) and generally makes life that bit healthier and nicer to live. These things must count for something!

Rosie is thought to be a bit English Bull Terrier, a bit Staffordshire Bull and a bit collie. The cleverness of the collie is evident. Bull terriers are nice dogs if treated well, in my experience. Staff’s are owner/people centred dogs and depending on the person, the dog is moulded. Rosie is the best mix possible of this combination. She isn’t a ‘barky’ dog. She never barks in the flat and has only been known to bark at male dogs sniffing her bottom (understandable!). She is no harm. Rosie is Annie’s dog, faithful and nice to have around, a good reason to feel better and make the most of the day.

‘The reading of books is only one means of acquiring knowledge’: an update from Jane

21 Nov

Jane 21/11/11

I’ve ended up with this dog, Marmite yeah? It’s young and I’m sorry to say I can’t do nothing with it. I mean, you know me, you know I’ve always had dogs and… Patch.., and, you know I have nice dogs. But this one’s like some crazy fighting dog and I didn’t choose to have him. It’s a long story but I ended up with this crazy dog called Red and I’m quite pissed off. I mean, if I took him to the pound, I’d have everyone on my back saying I’m a dog murderer because that’s what they do to dogs, dangerous dogs, at the pound.

I’ve got a cat too. I’m not sure whether to call him Bageera or Mario. I like Bageera.

I went to the doctor because he knows I’ve been doing this project with you over the last years or few. I went in and used to tell him I was an archaeologist and then he asked me if I would spoke to his medical students and I told them the truth about addiction. When I went to see him the other day, just at the surgery, I took him in this book that you sent me – Alexander Masters, Stuart: a life backwards – and he wanted to borrow it. I said he couldn’t have it because it was a gift from a friend and he just wrote down what it was called.

See, you get some people who are embarrassed to admit they can’t read. That’s it really. I can read, but loads of people on the street, you find out, after a while, they can’t. I had this idea to make my book so it come out with a CD of the music that goes with the times I’m talking about. So the people who can’t read can still get the gist of what it’s all about.

Thing is, the internet has all the music on it and it’s not cheap, Marmite, is it? The internet, I mean. I tried to get that…what’s it called? That Broadmend thing… what’s it called? Broadband. It wasn’t even wired up close to my place now. So I give up on that internet and instead, I was working out what music I’d put on the CD:

Red Eyes – Beautiful South – cos’ it’s about alcoholism

You ain’t goin’ nowhere – Bob Dylan

Family Portait – Pink – it reminds me of my kids. If you look at the video, the girl is following the mother and then the mother stays the same and the little girl ends up going in with a really Kosher, what is classed as a proper family, and the mum is just an alcoholic. If you look into it deeply, we’re all statistics, that’s what that video says to me.

Losing my Religion – REM

Everybody hurts – REM

Better to burn out than fade away – Neil Young

Strange little girl – Stranglers

Freebird – Lynard Skynard

Born to be wild – but I don’t know who did it

Stairway to Heaven – Led Zepplin

Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley

Beautiful and Goodbye my love – James Blunt

Driftwood – Travis

Lives in a windowsill – Travis

Sing – Travis

Knock three times on a ceiling if you wanna…I ain’t got a clue who that’s by. It’s about three or four years’ old. Heard it on the radio and loved it.

I will always love you – Whitney Houston

Fast Car – Tracy Chapman

Son of a Preacher Man – it’s on that CD Jake made for me. Wicked song that!

Under the Bridge – Chilli Peppers

By the way – Chillis – that’s when my kids got taken off me. My boy used to sing it to me.

Over the Rainbow – it’s on old black and white films.

Don’t worry be happy –

Angel – Robbie Williams – that’s the rehab’ I went to. It’s called Clouds. I actually sat in the seat that Robbie Williams sat in when he made that song. As you walk into the room, you got angels round the coving of the room…you’re meant to go for the serenity and peace and all that…there’s a fishpond and that’s where he – Robbie… he got that song from there. Everyone thinks it’s love song and it’s not.

27 Club – Jimi, Janice, Kurt and now Amy – they all died from drugs at 27 and that – Teen Spirit was about that. He didn’t realise that it was about that.

Tugthumping – Chumba Womba

Don’t bring Sally – Stranglers – it’s about smack.

That’s all jumble wumbled. But when I get it in the right order, it’ll be a killer album. My next door neighbour thinks I’m brilliant now. He’s really encouraging now that I’ve shown him I am writing stuff and he can see I’m serious. I told Whistler too. He’s got God but he thinks I’m doing well.

On being a homeless archaeologist, by Jane Hallam

29 Oct

When I first heard about the homeless heritage and archaeology project I thought it
sounded nuts! I was interested to know more about it but also quite shy because
a bit of me worried what other homeless people would think if I was doing it.

The time when it really clicked, when I became really interested, was when I
decided to come around with you [RK] one day, walking and looking at places I’d
skippered [slept rough]. I saw all these places – buildings and bushes and that
– from a new angle because of the questions you asked. Like, I’d always known
that some places I skippered were historic and sometimes I used to find old
possessions that other homeless people had discarded and even before I got
involved in the project, I did sometimes used to lie there and wonder what had
happened there all those years ago. I would think about who might have been
exactly where I was a hundred years ago and sometimes I wondered into the
future, would this place still be here? But I’d never thought about me being
part of its history and, now I think about it, that thought was important in
getting my curiosity going. Walking around the city doing archaeology, not just
normally walking around, made me remember how many homeless people used places
that no-one really thinks about much and I remembered how many lives have been
saved by these kind of places. Some of the places I skippered might have been
old and broken down or even totally derelict but they saved my life and the
lives of countless other people because it was a place to go and you could tuck
yourself in at night. In a way, the buildings that get called abandoned buildings
weren’t abandoned at all really because someone was living there, sleeping
rough, which is funny when you think about it.

I’ve  always been interested in archaeology and history but walking through it, making
a journey through the old buildings and talking about the places at the same
time made it more interesting than what it would be if I was just reading a
book in the library. I mean, it’s good to read books about history but it’s not
as real as when you’re actually pointing at things you can see in front of you.
I think you get more detail, you know, more of those little things that books
don’t tell you. I’ve definitely gained confidence and self-esteem from being
part of our team and Jude [Jane’s probation officer] said she’s noticed a big
change in me, said I seem happier and I am definitely that. I’ve learned a lot
from the project but also, I think we’ve taught each other new knowledge –
between the classes, we’ve built some bridges because it’s not all the higher
class telling us what is what. It’s like when we spoke at the conference in
Leicester (Postgraduate Conference in Historical Archaeology), after we did our
talk, that lady (Sarah Tarlow) said, ‘you’ve made me think’. Well, that made me
think a lot because I knew she was important in the archaeology world, she’s written
all these books about it, and so for her to say to us that we’d made her think…it
made me feel really good. It made me think maybe I could have a go at writing
about my life like a journey – from kid’s homes and childhood abuse to
Stonehenge and the Battle of the Beanfield and being a New Age traveller all
over Europe, to homelessness and addiction and it has a positive end, my story,
because I’ve come right out the other side by getting into archaeology. I don’t
use drugs these days and I’m only drinking a couple of cans at night, not all
day like I was. It’s quite a story really and if I wrote it down it could be
helpful to other people who are stuck in their lives and it would be something
good to leave for my kids. I never would have dreamt that people like that (Sarah
Tarlow) would have even spoke to people like us but after the conference when
we were all having a drink with the other people who were there it was like
there was no difference between the classes at all which is a nice thought. I
left Leicester thinking maybe I could write a book which is a crazy idea to
most people I know. In fact, I mentioned the idea to my neighbour when we got
back from Leicester and he said ‘are you really that bored?’ and I said, ‘it’s
not because I’m bored! I want to write a book because I’ve done all these
things and writing them down would be a project of my own to get stuck into’.

I think the opportunities that this project has offered us should be more widely
available – there are so many incentives to realise there is more to life than drugs
and drink (which most people do because they’re bored or because they’re trying
to block out how bad life is) and there’s this wealth of information that I
never even knew about before. Because it’s practical, it gets you out and about
and it makes learning much better than if you were just sitting behind a desk
at college. Because the way we do archaeology involves walking about, talking
and seeing things, you start to see places with this new knowledge in your mind
that makes it seem not the same old places, same old people. When you’re an
archaeologist looking at these places, it gives you incentives.  I think school trips would be better if they were more like the way we go around places – going to places and learning about them while you’re actually there. This kind of learning makes it easier to get
involved and it isn’t even just suitable for school trips, it’s good to do whatever
age you are. I’ve even written the prologue for my book!

R.I.P our friend and colleague, Ray

24 Oct

Very sadly, our friend and colleague, Ray, died quite unexpectedly recently. It was a shock to everyone who knew and liked him. Ray’s contributions to the Homeless Heritage project were important, insightful and valuable and he will be greatly missed.

Five Talk Heritage in Leicester!

24 Oct

On Saturday 8th October 2011, Mark, Jacko and Rachael left York and headed to Leicester where the Centre for Historical Archaeology was hosting a postgraduate conference at which we spoke. Arriving in Leicester in time to collect two other colleagues from the train station (Andy and Jane), we quickly practised our twenty minute talk in the back of the van before attending the Henry Wellcome Building where we were made very welcome by archaeologist and conference organiser, Emma Dwyer.

This was Jacko and Mark’s first conference as speakers but this didn’t put them off. Jacko talked eloquently about the way in which homelessness is often ‘hidden’ in tourist cities such as York and delighted the audience with tales of his grandfather having been a stone mason who worked on the Minster in York. Mark took questions from the audience and answered with clarity. Jane talked about the role of memory in heritage creation and how sometimes the strangest things (a bottle of gripe water, for example) can remind a person of a painful or glorious part of their life. Andy talked about the intangible barriers that can affect homeless people, for example, low literacy skills or learning difficulties such as dyslexia and also the need for more practical skills training e.g. day to day budgeting, in creating sustainable paths from homelessness to independent living.

We received lots of questions at plenary and enjoyed planning our next phase of fieldwork together, over a well-earned supper!

World Archaeological Inter-Congress, Indianapolis, June 2011

20 Jul

Thanks to receiving some funding from the Research Development Fund I was recently  able to give a paper at the World Archaeological Inter-Congress in Indianapolis, Indiana. The title of the conference was ‘Indigenous Peoples and Museums’ and was attended by archaeologists, anthropologists and people from indigenous populations from America, Canada, New Zealand and South America.

The title of my paper was ‘Trash or Treasure? Including social exclusion in museums.’ My research into the heritage of contemporary homelessness might have seemed, at first glance, out of place among papers concerning the repatriation of human remains and the need for sensitivity when interpreting sites of religious and cultural significance. But there were many parallels to be drawn in terms of collaborating with local communities and including everyone in the on-going process of defining and managing cultural heritage.

I was also able to meet and share research notes with Dr Larry Zimmerman, Professor
of Anthropology and Museum Studies at the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and his student Courtney Singleton who are the only other people in the world looking at contemporary homelessness archaeologically.

The Bristol homeless heritage team come to York!

20 Jul

With some funding from the Department of Archaeology’s Research Development Fund (University of York), we were able to bring three of the Bristol team to York for a couple of days, to expand the project to another city and explain – peer to peer – what exactly ‘homeless heritage’ is all about!

We were lucky enough to be hosted by Arc Light (link) who provided a fantastic spread of delicious homemade food and welcomed us into their cafe area with a big screen on which we could show our Turbo Island excavation film (see link).

Jane found someone in Bristol to look after Patch (the famous farting dog!) and was joined by Deano and Andy, who also travelled up from Bristol. We arranged to ‘do our talk’ and show the film in the afternoon which meant we had the morning free so we decided to visit the York Castle Museum.

Jane writes:

I was born a heroin addict and an alcoholic, cos my mum was. I was gutted when I saw that bottle of gripe water in the museum [York Castle Museum, ‘Cradle to Grave’] and the thing that explained what it was used for. I didn’t realise they put alcohol and opiumin there. My mother, well, she never brought me up because I was in care at six weeks, but in my record from Social Services, you know where they tell you what your diet was and that, it says that she gave me Gripe Water and that was in the sixties. I was gobsmacked they allowed alcohol and opium in something you gave a baby! No wonder there’s so many alcoholics and addicts and that! In a way, it made me feel better too though because now my eldest daughter is an alcoholic and I’ve always felt guilty about it. But I used Gripe Water with her in the 1980s and they was still putting alcohol in that stuff until 1992! It just made me think, you know, seeing that written down there in the museum.

Also, in the bit of the museum where there’s a Big Issue seller, he’s spot on with what he says. People do look down on you. I sold the ‘Issue for years like and, well, it is better than shoplifting.

I thought Arc Light [homeless centre in York] was amazing! When I got back to Bristol, I told everyone about it. We had this big conversation about how there should be them kind of places all over the country, not just in York. It was like a palace compared to Jamaica Street [St Mungo’s homeless hostel, Jamaica Street, Bristol]. Thing is, usually I feel really uncomfortable going into hostels but that Arc Light, I felt really welcome and there was all this nice food and it was really clean. Amazing place. Shame not more people came to our talk but it’s a new thing for them, isn’t it.

After we left, me and Deano went for a walk, you know, around the city walls. You can walk all the way around York on the old walls. It’s so beautiful isn’t it? We was trying to work out like which buildings was Georgian and which was from Victorian times and we even found a place that said it was built in 13 something or other. Amazing! There was this one place where, because we walked around at night, the moon was full and we could see the full moon and the old city walls, like a photograph really. I was saying to Deano, ‘you have that one and I’ll have that one!’ about these lovely old houses and he was in stitches saying, ‘how will you find the money to buy a house like that?’ and I said, ‘well, I don’t know, maybe I’ll just win the lottery!’

We had a great time up in York. Just a shame we couldn’t stay longer. It’s such a beautiful old city. I’d like to go back and take my time.

Is homeless heritage (culture) different in different cities?

20 Jul

In Bristol, I had come to know homeless people organically because I’d lived and worked in a part of the city where homelessness was the local ‘industry’. Stokes Croft had several hostels for homeless people, services for people with drink and drug problems were sited there and the area (at the time) had a reputation for being ‘rough’; property prices were at rock bottom and many shops were boarded up. There were lots of squats and derelict buildings in which homeless people had created ‘home spaces’. I have two dogs and smoke rollies and I found either the dogs or tobacco acted as ice breakers in speaking with homeless people. My approach in Bristol was simply to strike up conversations with homeless people, explain I was an archaeologist interested in public space and how people use cities – the routes and journeys they make, the places they feel ‘attachment’ to – and see whether anyone would be interested in joining me in archaeologically mapping and recording contemporary homelessness.

In York, a city I am very new to, I felt I should try a different approach. I made contact with Arc Light (a centre for homeless people) and asked whether I might work with residents to map and document homelessness in York. Initially, I met with several residents and ex-residents and support workers and we began with a short two hour walk around the centre of York. This was a ‘getting to know you’ exercise and we’ll update the blog as we undertake fieldwork.

Something that was immediately obvious to me is that homelessness in York is less ‘visible’ than it is in Bristol. York is a smaller city, of course, but it is also a heritage city, that is, a large proportion of York’s economy centres around tourism and I’m keen to explore whether this impacts how homelessness is dealt with.




A History of Stokes Croft in 100 Objects

19 Jul

In December 2010 we took on a squatted space – the Emporium – at 37 Stokes Croft, Bristol and turned it into an interactive archaeological exhibition for a few days. The exhibition was curated and staffed by the team and attended by people from all walks of life.

The show included artefacts we uncovered at the Turbo Island excavation (2008), photos, films and audio pieces where visitors could listen to homeless people describing places, routes and sites of significance to them – places of contemporary homelessness in Bristol, UK (listen to the audio in ‘Films and Audio’).

Alongside the contemporary history, the excavation revealed an ash layer that contained window glass, roof tiles and evidence of a fire. MA student Gillian Crea offered to undertake a finds report for us and using historical documentation, was able to ascertain that there had once been a building – Holdcroft’s shoe shop – on what is now called Turbo Island. Scouring the internet for people called ‘Holdcroft’, Gillian tracked down Mr John Holdcroft who told us the story of the day his father’s shop was bombed in April 1941 (listen to the audio in ‘Films and Audio). John is an artist and kindly loaned us a painting of his impression of his father’s shop after the bomb.

This exhibition was a landmark. Working together as a team of equals we were able to reveal previously unknown local history to the wider community and include homelessness – its existence, its shapes and forms – in the heritage interpretation of Bristol (UK)

Exhibition flyer ‘History of Stokes Croft in 100 Objects’.