23 March 2009

Wanted: Fake homeless

I find this hugely distasteful. As demonstrated by the women with whom I worked on the WISE project, members of the target population are as capable of conducting research as anyone else. So why hire "fake homeless"? Why not hire members of the homeless community to do the research? For one thing, you'd get a result which better reflected the reality.
In an e-mail sent out last week to different social agencies and individuals, city employee Monica Waldman said they are looking for "tons" of people to sign up to be "decoys" on April 15, the night scheduled for the city's second homeless head count.

You don't think that homeless people read or won't be aware that they'll be targeted that day? Many among the homeless are as loathe to give up their privacy as anyone else, which is why the last count resulted in lesser numbers than expected.

Look to see fewer people on the streets or in their usual hangouts on April 15th.
"Decoys are essentially 'faux' homeless people for quality assurance purposes in this research," [Waldman] wrote. "As a decoy, you would need to come to a 30-minute training session and then be deployed [speaking of jargon] to various sites throughout the city where you will wait to be approached by the research volunteers."

Each decoy will receive a $100 pre-paid Visa card as an honorarium.

In other words, objectivity is being sought. But as academics have known for decades, objectivity cannot be achieved no matter who does the work. Right from the start, the question which motivates the research also directs the quality of the answer which will result.

Moreover, you think the truly homeless won't know who are the fakes? Homeless communities are tight-knit. They'll know who doesn't belong and likely will make a game of, Identify the Mole!

Not only are homeless people capable of doing this task, they'd also benefit from the $100. Furthermore, as Michael Shapcott of the Wellesley Institute noted "the decoys are supposed to look like homeless people but a lot of homeless people don't look like homeless people because it's a survival strategy. It's only really counting a tiny fraction."

The whole notion of inserting plants is disrespectful and repugnant to me.

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