A UO student helps homeless using anthropology

Fox (right) held “art nights” to give women a comfortable environment in which to talk and connect.

When hoots and hollers emanate from the chapel at the Eugene Mission, it must be Thursday night. Anthropology major Violet Fox and a handful of women who live in the homeless shelter are creating collages and ribbing each other about their “bad art.” Wearing pajamas or street clothes with color-coordinated makeup and hair ties, the women craft their mosaics while sharing stories and telling jokes. The language gets colorful. Soon everyone is laughing and the hoopla prompts passersby to poke their heads in. “Art nights are always a raucous good time,” Fox says. “We are loud and expressive and use the time to bond and create something in the process.”

Homelessness has been on the rise nationally and in Eugene-Springfield. Oregon had the second-highest rate of homelessness in the country last year and, according to the Lane County Human Services Division, 130 local people become homeless every month.

But Fox says there is relatively little research on what life looks like for homeless women in Eugene-Springfield, including how society enables their homelessness or inhibits their escape from it.

Driven by her interest in the topic and a desire to graduate with honors earlier this year, Fox volunteered at the mission for eight months beginning in September 2018. With funding support from a UO Humanities Undergraduate Research Fellowship, she collected intimate details from women residents and wrote a thesis that allowed her to accomplish her graduation goal. The profiles she assembled lend insight into an often misunderstood population.

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