Homelessness is usually discusses in terms of its origins or in
terms of its amelioration. Media accounts focus on poverty, drug
use, lack of shelter, the social safety net, or attempts by the
homeless, social service agencies, and government to end
homelessness by policy and direct action. Yet we never seem to get
a clear picture of who the homeless are. We are exposed to them as
a social problem, but we learn little about their daily existence.
In Something Left to Lose, Gwendolyn A. Dordick gives us a dramatic
portrait of the social and personal lives of the homeless. Through
her extensive \u0022hanging out\u0022 with homeless people, Dordick
came to a profound understanding of the web of relationships that
provides complex social structure in situations where, to the
casual eye, there appears to be only chaos and paralysis. The
author shows us that improvising shelter means working hard to
co-exist with others. Lacking conventional private dwellings, the
homeless find or create shelter in unconventional places -- on
street corners adjoining bus stations, on empty lots of land, or in
shelters, public or private -- and negotiate the rules of these
places with authorities, passersby, and fellow homeless. The
different environments lead to quite different social relations.
The Armory, for example, is a frightening place, thanks to the
authoritarian attitudes of the employees and cliques of homeless
people in charge. In the Shanty, on the other hand, the difficult
issues are those of a self-governing community concerned about
safety -- controlling the drug use of some residents, deciding who
is allowed to tap into the electricity, and worrying about
intruders. In all settings, daily life for people without homes,
like daily life for people with homes, if full of the concerns of
personal relationships. How will we share our goods and emotions,
speak respectfully to each other, love and joke and work out our
disputes, and act in a trustworthy fashion? This book is also a
miniature research odyssey, complete with moments of fear,
frustration, blunders, distrust, and trust. In order to gather
these interviews, Dordick had to not only win the the confidence of
the homeless people she visited (the women at the Station thought
she was interested in their boyfriends) but also negotiate with
unsympathetic police and shelters employees or defy them.
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