Study Shows That The Depiction Of Homelessness On Television Has A Race And Gender Problem
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Study Shows That The Depiction Of Homelessness On Television Has A Race And Gender Problem

According to a new study, news and television programs that detail homelessness have a race and gender issue.

After studying 150 episodes from 50 television shows, American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact have found that a disproportionate amount of television programming regarding homelessness focused on white people by 87 percent, and males by 76.1 percent. However, in reality, 40 percent of people who are homeless are Black and 39 percent are young girls and women. Shows that are produced by diverse showrunners, on the other hand, create more accurate depictions of homelessness.

“The deep challenges of housing insecurity face thousands of Americans, and yet, we don’t know much about how this complex issue is portrayed culturally–that is, through journalism and entertainment media,” said CMSI Director Caty Borum Chattoo in a statement. “We believe it’s vitally important to understand those reflections as homelessness solutions are debated and advanced at the policy level.”

Other findings, all of which were published in the university’s research paper “Homelessness & Housing Security in U.S. Culture: How Popular Culture and News Depicts An American Challenge,” include that out of 5,703 articles from 12 of America’s “most read” newspapers, homelessness and housing stability issues were given less than 0.002 percent of news attention in 2018. Within that small percentage, almost 90 percent of articles about housing stability only focused on one area of housing stability-homelessness, gentrification or affordable housing–and only one percent focused on how all three issues are related.

Homelessness was also found to be oversimplified in the media, with more than 60 percent of references to ending homelessness revolving around giving to charity organizations. Twelve percent of solutions revolved around people overcoming their criminal pasts. Another twelve percent related to people ending drug addiction, and another twelve percent focused on people becoming employed. Six percent focused on “improvement in policies or systems of care…related to housing stability and homelessness.”

“In television, 80 percent of homeless characters were only present for one episode and over half of the characters had less than 10 lines. Almost half of the homeless characters didn’t have speaking lines.

Gentrification was also found to be almost unacknowledged in the media. “When gentrification is portrayed (3 out of 120), it is depicted as taking the form of changing communities and buildings, and as creating tensions between ‘outsiders and insiders,'” states the university. “It is framed as a ‘national’ (rather than local) and ‘natural’ (rather than deliberate or strategic) phenomenon.”


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Photo: Getty Images

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