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Houses with elastic walls: negotiating home and homelessness within the policy domain.

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Kotuitu, 10(1), 10-22

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In this article, Leggatt-Cook and Chamberlain explore the complex interplay between the concepts of 'home' and 'homelessness' within the context of New Zealand's social policy.

As the authors note, efforts to address homelessness in New Zealand are marked by competing discourses that construct it as a housing issue, or more radically, as an issue of social exclusion. The paper traces the challenges presented to the politics of social action by recognising homelessness as an issue of social exclusion, but needing to frame it as an issue of housing to effect policy change. The study employs qualitative research methods, including interviews and thematic analysis, to delve into personal experiences of individuals who are on the brink of homelessness or who have been homeless and to examine the difficulties of reconciling these discourses when framing homelessness policy. Research for the paper was conducted with a national organisation involved in advocating to the New Zealand government on homelessness policy. The authors introduce the metaphor of ‘houses with elastic walls’ to describe the fluidity and precariousness of housing stability in the lives of these individuals. They argue that the conventional binary understanding of being either housed or homeless is overly simplistic and fails to capture the nuanced realities faced by many. As the authors note, social activist groups must routinely make pragmatic and strategic compromises that challenge the integrity of their ideological positions and their conceptual understandings, and develop group practices that allow them to resolve the tensions that this can generate. The study provides insightful perspectives on how individuals navigate and negotiate their living situations within the constraints of available social policies and support systems.

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