Natalie Robinson – H.E.L.L.O. Project


Working it out

I attended PhotoVoice’s facilitator training course in February 2014, in preparation for my own participatory photography project, which would form part of my PhD at the University of Liverpool. The ideas shared over three creative, intensive and incredibly informative days in London helped me to carve out my own path, enabling me to step into the field with an increased sense of confidence. Supervised across sociology and human geography and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (North West Doctoral Training Centre) my research focuses specifically on homeless young people’s inclusion in and exclusion from public urban spaces in Chicago, using photovoice methods to include participants’ points of view.

Photograph courtesy of Shruti Sharma, Photographer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

H.E.L.L.O Homeless and Formerly Homeless Youth Activism Group

I arrived in Chicago with a research plan in theory, but nevertheless endeavoured to remain flexible – entirely open to exactly how this would be realised in practice. My aim was to work with a small group of homeless individuals who were interested and would hopefully enjoy taking part in the project. Julie Dworkin, Policy Director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) , connected me with CCH Youth Attorney Beth Cunningham, who, along with her colleague, Policy Specialist Jennifer Cushman, runs the H.E.L.L.O group. H.E.L.L.O stands for ‘Homeless Experts Living Life’s Obstacles’ and is an activism-focused group for homeless and formerly homeless youth, meeting Tuesday evenings at the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ (WAUCC) in Chicago’s Lakeview neighbourhood. Food and transit are provided for all who attend, and any young person between the ages of 14-24 is welcome. Each week, the group participate in activities, ranging from arts, crafts, spoken word poetry, and yoga, to discussions around ‘rights’ when dealing with police, community safety and relations.


Photograph courtesy of Shruti Sharma, Photographer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.


Photovoice as Fieldwork

My own project involved the distribution of disposable cameras to a number of young people attending H.E.L.L.O, along with an invitation to picture places in Chicago that are meaningful to them. Once developed, the photographs formed the basis for group discussions, with a focus on perceptions of inclusion in and exclusion from city spaces. This is particularly relevant in Illinois, where since 2013 the Homeless Bill of Rights has formally legislated that homeless individuals cannot be denied access to public spaces solely because of their housing status. Five young people over the age of eighteen volunteered to participate, and chose a select number of photographs to be included in a community exhibition, which they entitled ‘This is My Story’. The exhibition took place in the WAUCC in July. The pictures were given titles and captions by the photographers and their peers, and these were displayed alongside the images, explaining the significance of each. The event was well attended by homeless and formerly homeless youth, community members, local and national organisations, CCH staff and Executive Director Ed Shurna as well as IL State Representative Greg Harris – a strong advocate for homeless services in Chicago.

Photograph courtesy of Shruti Sharma, Photographer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with H.E.L.L.O and look forward to continuing a relationship with this group, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and partner organisations. It is my hope that my doctoral thesis and related work around this project will contribute to qualitative social research, specifically relating to youth homeless experiences of Chicago, in a way that will be valuable for all involved.


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[gdlr_heading tag=”h2″ size=”28px” color=”#ffffff”]Follow Natalie on Twitter @natalier1986 [/gdlr_heading]

To see the full selection of participant images, and to read more about the project, please visit

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