Moral Agency in Homeless Engagement
This training draws from anthropological theory and methods to inform a recovery-oriented approach for clients experiencing homelessness. We define important aspects of moral agency (i.e., autobiographical power, peopled opportunities, and social bases of self-respect) that matter for both providers and for the clients they serve. Moral agency is the freedom to influence the narrative about one’s identity and build respectful relationships in order to live a “good life” based on local expectations of what constitutes the “good.” Using ethnographic data, this training discusses how mental health service providers build and practice roles that feel “good” and “right” for providing care to clients in specific service contexts; and how clients may also build and practice their own sense of living a “good life” in different contexts. Focusing on four different contexts of homeless engagement across North America (i.e., Los Angeles, Bay Area, Montreal, Houston), this presentation shows how different homeless service contexts set expectations for clients and for providers, and we show how this may lead clients and providers to take steps to meet those expectations. For each context, we offer examples of how providers may draw on aspects of moral agency to support clients’ recovery (e.g., supporting the growth of autobiographical power that can allow a client to write their own story). By recognizing how moral agency is defined and practiced in various settings, this training will help service providers reflect on the moral aspects of their work, the importance of building agency and community, and how outreach practices can enact a person-centered model of care. Recorded on April 1, 2022.
- Identify differences between an illness-centered and a person-centered approach to homeless outreach
- List three distinct aspects of moral agency
- Identify practices in homeless outreach work and in homeless outreach settings that may undermine clients’ moral agency
- Identify approaches common to a biomedical model that can potentially undermine moral agency for individuals experiencing homelessness
- Describe strategies that providers can use to maintain a sense of moral purpose in their work