University of Sussex Media Release.
. Student's Project Brings Hope to Homeless

15 February 1999
For immediate release

When we think of the problem of homelessness, chances are we conjure up images of someone lying in a shop doorway with a dog and a can of beer, begging for loose change. Ian Ibbetson, a final year media studies student at Sussex University, is setting out to challenge that perception with a research project which focuses on those who have escaped from the homeless trap.

Ian says the issue of what happens to people when they break free of homelessness has "never been studied before." As he points out, "we know there are new people becoming homeless all the time, but the total number of homeless people doesn't rise proportionately. So there must be people getting out." Ian's hope is that by highlighting the experiences of those who found secure housing and other successes, he might change people's perceptions of homelessness, and at the same time inspire hope in those who are homeless now.

Ian was himself homeless for four years, and his transition from that experience to studying at Sussex is a success story which itself illustrates the theme of his research. However, he insists that his own experience hasn't been the driving force behind his work: "I think the real influence has come from a whole bunch of people I've met in the last five or ten years. Long after I'd finished considering myself to be homeless, I started to meet all these other people and in the course of talking to them found out that they had been homeless as well. They were so completely different to people's regular image of a 'homeless person' - that gap was something that fascinated me."

Ian's acquaintances are now pursuing diverse and successful careers, from the high-powered self employed businessman to the journalist, the independent researcher, the nurse and the social worker. And, as Ian points out, having been homeless might itself bring an extra edge to these people in their professional life, "These are incredibly resourceful people. I suppose I also have a certain inner resourcefulness - I must have it, otherwise I wouldn’t still be here."

In the hope of finding people who follow this pattern, Ian has arranged coverage in a local newspaper, and produced his own publicity to recruit people. He has also won sponsorship from a local multi-media company who will help him with his ground breaking proposal for presenting the research. Influenced by the trend within history towards mass-observation, Ian wants to take this one step further by creating a multi-media presentation of people's stories, hopefully with the end result of designing an interactive web-site for other people to add their tales as well. Ian has raised £3,000 in sponsorship to buy the equipment he will need to make this presentation, which will also be deposited in the British Library's National Sound Archive for future generations to refer to. As he points out, the scope of the project is "not just a piece of undergraduate research."

Fourteen years after he last considered himself to be homeless, Ian is still uneasy when it comes to talking about that part of his life. He admits that others may find it hard to talk about it too, but he has already succeeded in contacting two-thirds of the people he needs for his research. As he points out, there are estimated to be 435,000 homeless families in the UK - "but when was the last time you walked past a shop doorway and saw a family there?" Of his attempts to challenge these common stereotypes of homelessness, he says "I don’t expect my research to change the world overnight, but I hope I can kick something off which will encourage people to think in a slightly different way, and for now that's good enough for me."

For further information please contact Sally Hall, Information Office, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 678335, email or Ian Ibbetson, Tel. 01273 695686.

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