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KERR. We Know What the Problem Is

KERR. We Know What the Problem Is

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Published by: XI DeAgosto on May 16, 2012
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Oral History Association
"We Know What the Problem Is": Using Oral History to Develop a Collaborative Analysis ofHomelessness from the Bottom upAuthor(s): Daniel KerrSource:
The Oral History Review,
Vol. 30, No. 1 (Winter - Spring, 2003), pp. 27-45Published by:
on behalf of the
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"WeKnow What the Problem Is":UsingOralHistorytoDevelopaCollaborativeAnalysisofHomelessness from theBottomUp
byDaniel KerrAbstractUsingaudio,video,andradiointerviews,heCleve-landHomeless OralHistory Project (CHOHP)hassoughttofoster thedevelopmentof a collaborativeanalysisof home-lessness from the bottomup. Designedtoovercomeproblemswithtraditionalacademicresearchonhomelessness,CHOHPexplicitlyseeksto shareresearchwiththoselivingonthestreets and in theshelters inCleveland,Ohioandinvolvehomelesspeopleintheprocessofanalysis.Rather than focus-ingon thepersonal pathologiesof thehomeless,theanalysisthatemergesfromCHOHPsuggeststhat trends n downtownandneighborhoodrealestatedevelopment,the criminaliza-tion of thepoor,thegrowthof thetemporaryaborindustry,and theretrenchmentofthewelfaresystemhave led totheemergenceofpowerfulinterestsinvestedinperpetuatinghomelessness.Beyondanalyzingthesetrends,CHOHP's for-mal researchsettinghasemboldened homelesspeopleto actandbecomeagentsfor socialchange.
It takestheefforts,man,of all of ushomelesspeopletoget togetherandtryand comeupwith solutions.Buttheydon't wantto hear ourideas.Wegoonhomeless marches.Wegoonhomelessoutings.Andwe tell themwhat's heproblem.We know what theproblems. But
Intheearly1990s,DanielKerrdevelopedhis interest nhousingssueswhiletakingoverabandonedbuildingsandparticipatingn thesquattermovement andanti-evictionstrugglesonthe Lower EastSideinNew YorkCity.Freshfrom the barri-cades,he moved toCleveland,Ohio where hehelpedfound thelocalchapterofFood NotBombs and iscurrentlyaPh.D.candidate nhistoryatCase WesternReserveUniversity.
TheOralHistoryReview,Vol.30,No.1,pages27-45.SSN:094-1223;lectronicSSN: 533-8592? 2003bytheOralHistoryAssociation.Allrightseserved.Sendrequestsorpermissionoreprinto:RightsandPermissions,niversityfCaliforniaress,JournalsDivision,2000CenterSt.,Ste.303,Berkeley,CA94704-1223.
 
28ORALHISTORYREVIEW
theydon'tlistento us. You knowwhy?Because there'sbigdollarsinvolved now.
-JOHN APPLING1
In the fall of1996,aftereightmonthsofworkingwithagroupIfoundedthatprovidesfoodtopeople livingonthestreets andinthe sheltersofCleveland,I initiated whathasbecome the ClevelandHomeless OralHistory Project(CHOHP).Intriguedwiththepossibilitythat oralhistorycouldpromotedialogueonthestreetsamongthehomeless,Iboughtathirty-dollar mini-cassette recorder andbroughtit to ourweeklypic-nics. The initialaudio interviews examined the life histories offourhomeless men.Theprojectcoincided withmyentranceinto thegraduateprograminhistoryat CaseWestern ReserveUniversityand Iused theinterviewsn a seminarpaper,aperfor-mancepieceandpamphlet,"ACompletePerfectNothingness."2As Itranscribedtheseinterviews, however,Irealizedthatmygoalofpromotingdialogueon the streets wasonlypartiallyfulfilled. While theindividualsIinterviewedknewtheywerebeingrecorded,theywereclearly talkingto me.Iwastheonewhohadcollectedandcompiledtheirprofoundwords,whichInowhad before me atmydesk.Mydesire tohave the inter-viewees talk toeach otherresultedin someunconventional the-oreticalapproachesinmyfirstpaper.However,thelimitationsoftheprintedformat,measuredin termsof itscoolreceptionbythemostimportantintendedaudience,thehomeless them-selves,promptedme toswitchover to video. Ibegantoseethisprojectmoreexplicitlyasacollaborativeone,unlikemain-streamacademicresearch onhomelessness.AdvocatesandacademicsstudyinghomelessnessintheUnitedStates haveprimarilysoughtanaudience ofpublicofficials,civicleaders,and middleandupperclassprogressives,whotheybelieve havethepowerto createchange.Inpartthisfocushasbeenstructuredbythepublicofficials themselves whohaveencouragedthisapproach,seekingadviceon thehomeless
'JohnApplinginterview,September5,1999. Allinterviews,tapes,andtranscriptionsinpossessionofauthor.
2
DanielKerr,"ACompletePerfectNothingness,"XCP:Streetnotes,Fall1999,http://bfn.org/-xcp/kerr.html.

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