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Sponsored by the Office of Student Life & Engagement, Center City and the College of Population Health


A team of Jefferson students, alumni and faculty in collaboration with artist Willie Baronet, employed qualitative methods to explore poverty in Philadelphia.


The Signs of Humanity (SOH) Project is a researcher-artist collaboration. This joint venture was designed to explore the interactions between people using signs to ask for help and those who pass by with the goal of reducing the dehumanization of this community. The research arm was designed to qualitatively explore the experiences of people who seek financial support or in-kind help from passersby. This is referred to as "panhandling" in the literature and that term will be used going forward. While not everyone who panhandles is experiencing homelessness, these situations frequently co-occur in Philadelphia. People who panhandle are a very visible fraction of a city's homeless population and while they are often "counted" there are few opportunities to hear from them about their lived experiences. The signs they carry point to common hardships such as housing and food insecurity and substance abuse disorders: however, they do not tell the complete story.

A team of Jefferson researchers, MPH and MD students (and alumni) along with Willie Baronet, a Dallas Artist, conducted interviews with 41 people over the course of 1 week. Questions explored the lived experience of people in need here in Philadelphia, including their interactions with passersby, their opinions about how money collected is used by their counterparts, their experiences with housing insecurity and their perception of how the opioid crisis has affected them. The research team performed intercept interviews that including freelisting and open-ended questions.