Managing Marginality: Homeless Seclusion and Survival

 

My second book project Managing Marginality: Homeless Seclusion and Survival is an ethnography of the three signature institutions governing homelessness in the US metropolis: the streets, shelters, and homeless housing programs. Combining ethnographic observations of living alongside those experiencing homelessness in encampments, shelters, and residential programs, and working with bureaucrats, activists, and service providers addressing homelessness the dissertation traces how homelessness is struggled over as a governable social problem and the implications this has for the daily existence among the unhoused. Rather than taking homelessness as the outcome of poverty and inequality, the study elaborates how the state’s treatments of homelessness fuels inequality from below and perpetuates poverty.

Articles and chapters from this project are included here.

“Between Street and Shelter: Homeless Seclusion and the Neutralization of Poverty.” In Press.In J. Flint and R. Powell (eds.) Rethinking Urban Inequality: Class, Ethnicity, and State in the Polarized Metropolis. London: Palgrave.

On any given night, hundreds of thousands of Americans find themselves without a home and residing either outside on the streets or inside in a shelter. Yet, we know very little about why some go in and others stay out. This article examines the dynamic connection between these two primary spaces of homeless seclusion in the US metropolis through a case study of San Francisco: a city known for both its robust shelter system and large number of unsheltered homeless. The paper draws on an enactive ethnography living alongside those on the streets and in shelters, and an ethnography of the bureaucratic field working alongside policymakers, police officers, social workers, and community groups, to illustrate how state classifications and policies sort, propel, and repel sections of the poor into one space or another. The paper builds on and extends Wacquant’s underutilized conception of socio-spatial seclusion (2010) to elaborate how state regulations of physical space (shelter/street) work in consort to (re)produce distinctions in social space (deserving/undeserving) that both fuels inequality from below, while neutralizing poverty through invisibilization and de-politicization.

“Precarious Housing Fixes: The limits and shortcomings of Homeless Housing Programs in San Francisco.” To be presented at The Sociology of Housing conference, Georgetown University, October 2019.

In the past two decades volumes of medical, policy, and social science research have pointed to the benefits and successes of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) and the Housing First Model for ending homelessness. Far less research has considered how and why such housing does not reach certain categories of the unhoused, fails to fulfill the needs of certain categories of residents while living in them, and how many end up returning to homelessness. Drawing on ethnographic observations and administrative data in San Francisco, a city with more permanent supportive housing per capita than any other US city, this paper reveals that PSH in the long-run is neither supportive or permanent for many of its residents. Acknowledging the positive, and even life-changing/saving impacts I observed this housing having on participants initially leaving the streets and shelter, the paper describes the unstable process of being "rehoused," the insecurity of maintaining tenancy with the mismatch/lack of services, and uncovers several ways residents are evicted or leave becoming unhoused yet again returning to the shelters and the streets. The paper concludes discussing the politics and policies that leaves these problems unaddressed even as PSH is being further expanded. I argue this is due to (a) the carving out and detachment of homeless policy from broader housing and policy poverty and (b) the uncritical support among progressive and liberal organizers, politicians, and policymakers who conflate the project with a progressive ideal right-to-housing without acknowledging the neoliberal practices structuring its access, operations, and evaluation.

 

 

 
 
 
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