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Where Have All the Homeless Gone?

Where Have All the Homeless Gone?: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis

Anthony Marcus
Series: Dislocations
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 180
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  • Book Info
    Where Have All the Homeless Gone?
    Book Description:

    For a decade, from 1983 to 1993, homelessness was a major concern in the United States. In 1994, this public concern suddenly disappeared, without any significant reduction in the number of people without proper housing. By examining the making and unmaking of a homeless crisis, this book explores how public understandings of what constitutes a social crisis are shaped.

    Drawing on five years of ethnographic research in New York City with African Americans and Latinos living in poverty, Where Have All the Homeless Gone? reveals that the homeless "crisis" was driven as much by political misrepresentations of poverty, race, and social difference, as the housing, unemployment, and healthcare problems that caused homelessness and continue to plague American cities.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-696-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Where Have All the Homeless Gone?
    (pp. 1-12)

    For a decade from 1983 to 1993, homelessness was a major public concern in the United States. It was big business in social science, social policy, and national news. In 1987 the United States Congress passed the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which set aside one billion dollars for research and support programs designed to help the homeless. In 1990 discothèques across the United States rocked to a summer hit about a homeless woman, while anthropology, sociology, public health, and social work departments offered semester-long classes devoted to studying this population. Community groups and advocacy organizations fought politicians over...

  5. Chapter 1 Who Are the Homeless, Really?
    (pp. 13-19)

    In the summer of 1993, as I neared the end of my contract as staff ethnographer on a massive three-year federally funded demonstration project on homelessness, I faced the difficult task of turning thousands of pages of research data into a doctoral thesis. Throughout my three years on the job, friends, neighbors, in-laws, and just about everybody I met at any social gathering had asked me the same question, “Who are the homeless, really?” When I came to write up my work, I discovered I still was not any closer to answering this simple question, despite having passed three years...

  6. Chapter 2 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Performance of Homelessness
    (pp. 20-34)

    For most of my informants the category “homeless” was tied to both the ritual humiliation that was required to receive resources from state social welfare programs or private charities and the management of black masculinity, which they often identified as one of the key problems in American society. As one of my informants, an early-twenties African American, once said to me, “black men are scary, we even scare each other lots of the time. If you’re not working for some white guy, you have to be pretty ugly, tired and sad to get any help. Its prison or the shelter.”...

  7. Chapter 3 New York City and the Historiography of Homelessness
    (pp. 35-49)

    The publication ofPrivate Lives/Public Spacesby Ellen Baxter and Kim Hopper in 1981 marks the beginning of the homeless crisis and its study in social science, in the United States. Though there had been a brief flurry of articles in national news magazines showing “homeless families living in cars in the Midwest” during the 1979 to 1980 national election period, very little in the way of public policy or debate came from these articles. Similarly, there have been important studies of housing loss, urban and rural American nomads, and semipublic living over the last hundred years. Alice Sollenberger published...

  8. Chapter 4 The Poverty of Poverty Studies
    (pp. 50-62)

    It was not the shockingly large numbers of people sleeping on steam gratings and in shantytowns in parks and under bridges, nor residents of single room occupancy hotels spending their days selling discarded clothing and magazines that created the homeless crisis. They were only the raw materials. Neither was it the creation of Kim Hopper, Ellen Baxter, or later homelessologists such as Joel Blau, Segal and Specht, Ida and Ezra Susser, or Peter Rossi. Public poverty is nothing new and Hopper and Baxter were writing at the tail end of a long tradition of social science/social policy poverty studies. It...

  9. Chapter 5 Shelterization: In the Land of the Homeless
    (pp. 63-78)

    Like theStar Warstrilogy that appeared during this same period, the homeless crisis became an important national drama, despite its stereotyped characters, hackneyed moral and thin plot. This was because the homeless drama presented a strongly directed seamless and archetypal vision of familiar themes, characters, and moral dilemmas regarding race, poverty and social inequality that was resonant for many Americans. One of the crucial factors that made it possible to realize a new national drama involving so many of the same old actors and story lines was what film theorists call the mise-en-scène, or what is seen in the...

  10. Chapter 6 Doin’ It in the System
    (pp. 79-97)

    By the early 1990s the municipal shelter system was in terrible disrepute. Perhaps most discredited among all the shelters was Fort Washington, which had such a terrible reputation for violence, drugs, and sexual perversion that a major Hollywood motion picture starring Matt Dillon and Danny Glover namedThe Saint of Fort Washingtonhad used the shelter as its setting. In 1991 then mayor of New York David Dinkins commissioned a report on homeless policy in New York City that addressed what was viewed by many as a nearly intolerable problem. This committee was chaired by then Governor Mario Cuomo’s son...

  11. Chapter 7 The Black Family and Homelessness
    (pp. 98-117)

    The debate over the nature, function, and dysfunction of the black family has been one of the key questions that Americanist scholars in nearly every field from sociology to comparative literature have argued about. Politicians, political activists, and employees standing by the watercooler frequently discuss it, weigh in on it, and use it as an explanation for a variety of social problems and concerns from crime in the cities to continuing inequality. The debate over homelessness in the 1980s and ’90s was no exception to this phenomenon. National magazines ran cover stories about why black men were homeless and what...

  12. Chapter 8 Housing Panic and Urban Physiocrats
    (pp. 118-137)

    It is said that behind every stereotype there is some reality that is either misunderstood or wrongly contextualized. Homelessness also had its poorly contextualized reality. Underneath the discourses of American individualism and race that rationalized and naturalized the categories of poverty studies there was a reality that was related to housing. Numerous scholars, writers, and social critics have documented this obvious connection through work on both underhoused populations and those who researched, designed, and provided services to them (Susser 1996). Up until now, this book has looked at these two categories of people with the goal of deconstructing the seemingly...

  13. Chapter 9 American Thatcherism: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis
    (pp. 138-154)

    By the end of 1993 New York City had its first Republican mayor in two decades, the Democrats had the White House, and I was finished with my employment as a research associate at the CTI project. Everything was changing, including the homeless crisis. There was talk of closing the Fort Washington Men’s Shelter, media coverage of homeless issues was dropping by the day, and it suddenly seemed that everybody, including my employers, was trying to find new areas for research and funding. Some of my colleagues continued with homeless studies, but many realized that it was time to shift...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 155-162)
  15. Index
    (pp. 163-166)