Healing the Collective: Empowering the Houseless Population Through Storytelling

by Ryley Henninger

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a larger project done for the women’s studies course, Theories of Intersectionality

There is so much power when one can articulate their experience; in fact it can be liberating. Silence leads to helplessness. Without sharing stories, we are hindered from learning and building social bonds. Growing up, we hear tales of woe and success that shape how we take on the world. At dinner, when sharing how our day was and laughing, we strengthens familial ties. Sharing similar feelings, thoughts, and experiences with another allows us to relate and empathize easier with them. Stories also have the power to bring change. Through awareness, we can recognize wrongdoings and identify improvements that can be made. One reason this happens is because storytelling evokes an emotional response that is followed by a thought process and then behavior (action). No wonder why oppressors silence stories or question their credibility. Furthermore, storytelling not only touches the audience, but the storyteller is also influenced. Telling your story is therapeutic. It can facilitate processing emotions and trauma, bring clarity to a situation, and make some feel more empowered.

To better understand the experiences that houseless women face in our community, I conducted interviews. Initially, I wanted to connect with these women at our local shelter again. After considering the circumstances of the pandemic and structural violence, I decided that it would be best to connect with the women in another way. I went to local areas in town that I know houseless individuals tend to be. I did not force anyone to speak with me if they did not desire to. I provided the women I interviewed with a pamphlet about the project (e.g., the purpose) and assured their participation was consensual. The interviews were guided by some thoughts. Because houselessness is fundamentally caused by a lack of access to resources, it is important to me to learn how our local community is failing to make resources accessible. More importantly though, I wanted to hear the personal experiences of these women. Below are brief summaries of the interviews done…