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Geography Of The Homeless Shelter: Staff Surveillance And Resident Resistance

Author(s): Jean Calterone Williams


Source: Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development,
Vol. 25, No. 1 (SPRING, 1996), pp. 75-113
Published by: The Institute, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40553294
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GeographyOf The
HomelessShelter:
StaffSurveillance
And ResidentResistance
JeanCalteroneWilliams
ofPoliticalScience
Department
TheJohnsHopkinsUniversity
ABSTRACT:Thisarticlecombinesethnographic
studyofhomelessfamiliesand individualsin severalshelterswithan examinaAn exploration
oftheshelters.
tionofthephysicalenvironments
of thegeographyof thesheltersand theirstringent
regulations
serveas institutional
revealsthewaysinwhichhomelessshelters
oflow-income
intrusion
and surveillance
spacesforgovernment
and homeless people. Shelter regulations are based upon
thathomeless
social serviceagencyarguments
professionalized
or lowthan
rather
themselves,
unemployment,
poverty,
people
arethe"problem"tobe addressedand
incomehousingshortages,
ofhometheminutiae
andrecording
corrected.
observing
Through
activiless shelterresidents'past personalhistoriesand current
client
homeless
correct
the
to
control
and
ties,shelterstaff
attempt
inorderthathe orshemaybecomestablyhoused.Homelessshelresistsocialworkercontroland surveillance
terresidents
through
of social workeras
small acts of resistanceto the construction
"unbiasedexpert"and ofhomelesspersonas lazy,mentally
ill,or
"abnormal."

75
Inc.
1996TheInstitute,
ISSN 0894-6019,

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76

URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY

VOL. 25(1), 1996

residentofa WestCityhomeless
Angie, a sixty-year-old
shelter,
painfullylimpsback to theshelteraftercampingfor
tendays in themountainswithFrank,an elderlyhomeless
manwhohad also stayedat theshelterand withwhomAngie
In theless thantwo weeks that
has a romanticrelationship.
shehas beencamping,Angle'sarthritis
has worsenedsignifiherusuallybelaboredwalk intoan agocantly,
transforming
nizedshuffle.
TwoweeksbeforeAngle'sreturn,
afterlivingin
theshelterforovera yearwithouthavingsecuredsubsidized
housing,Angieand Frankmadeplanstoleavetheshelterand
campin stateparkswithFrank'ssister.SincebothFrankand
Angie were receivingSocial SecurityDisabilitypayments,
and Frankbecause he recently
Angieforherseverearthritis
Frankreasonedthatifthey
underwenttriplebypasssurgery,
campedfora year,betweentheirtwoincomestheycouldsave
enoughmoneyto eventuallyafford
housingtogether.
and
Frank
left
Angie
feelinghopefulabouttheirplansand
happytobe able tosharea tentafterlivingconsignedtoseparatemen's and women'sdormsat the shelter.WhenFrank
broughta depressedand discouragedAngiebackto thesheltendays myarthritis
was so bad I
ter,she explained:"...after
couldhardlywalkso I had tocomeback[here].I wantedFrank
tocomebackwithme,butI guessI didn'tfigurea blood relative,thathe would choosehis sisteroverme." Althoughositwas herarthritis
thatforcedhertoconcedethatshe
tensibly
couldnotcopewithlivingoutdoors,Angieclearlydid notenjoymanyaspectsofhertendaysinthestatepark.Shedescribes
and otheraspectsof
sleepingin a tent,cookingby campfire,
outdoorlifewithdistaste:"We got our drinkingwaterfrom
thetownnearwherewe wereand boiledwaterfromthecreek
to wash our dishesin. Butwe couldn'tshoweror wash our
hairand I couldn'tstandthat.The first
weekendwe wokeup
and itwas 29 . 1was shaking."Notwithstanding
heraversion
to camping,Angiemaintainsthatshe would have stayedif
she could have physicallywithstoodoutdoorlife,such was

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

77_

herdesiretolivefreeofthedorm-like
and shared
atmosphere
livingspace,curfewand otherrulesat theshelter.A mature
womanwhohaslivedonherownformanyyears,Angiemisses
thatcomewithone's ownlivingspace:"I
thesimplefreedoms
can'twaittogetoutofhere.I had a tasteoffreedom[whilewe
werecamping].NotthatFm notgrateful
[thatI'm able tostay
in theshelter],
becauseI am. But[inmyown place],ifI want
towatchTV all night,I can,orcomeoutoftheshowerand not
havetoworryaboutgettingdressedrightaway/7
LikeAngie,manyhomelesswomeninterviewedforthis
studyexpressa mixtureofgratitudeto homelesssheltersfor
providinga "roofovertheirheads" and distasteforsomeasstaff
interference,
pectsofthecommunallivingarrangements,
and shelterrules.Althoughthearchitecture
and rulesof the
sheltersvarysomewhat,eachhas a curfew,
rangingfrom7:00
with
case managersin
to
mandatory
meetings
p.m. midnight,
whichtheclientsareexpectedto revealto stafftheirpersonal
historiesand currentgoals, and sharedlivingspace which
makesit difficult
to findtimeto themselves(Huttmanand
Redmond1992:97;Weisman1992:78).Indeed,becauseofshelterrulesandinvasivestaff
practices,
manyofthewomenmaintainthattheshelteris theirlastchoice,resortedto onlyafter
severalotheroptions.
exhausting
I beganinSeptember
of1994toconductresearchin homeless and domesticviolencesheltersin a largeSouthwestern
cityI have called WestCity.The researchincludesin-depth,
with35 homelesspeople,and oninterviews
semi-structured
inseveralshelters
withapproxigoingparticipant-observation
and
the
case
100
shelter
residents
managers,usually
mately
withthem.A rehired
to
work
social
workers,
professional
homeviewof50randomly
chosen1995casefilesatonefamily
theinterviews
and participant-obserlesssheltersupplements
vation.The largerresearchprojectupon whichthisessay is
based examines the contextsand meanings of women's
betweendomestic
theconnections
homelessness,
particularly

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78

URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY

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violenceand homelessness.As a result,thoughparticipantobservation


occurredwithbothmenand women,mostofthe
interviews(33 of 35) were conductedwithwomen,and the
madeherepertainmostclearlytowomen'sexgeneralizations
shelters.
periencesin emergency
in thisprojecthouseas fewas 45
The sheltersrepresented
to as manyas 100 individuals;all have cumbersomesets of
rulesand a significant
amountof contactbetweenresidents
and staff.In contrastto armory-style
whichtendto
shelters,
have fewerrulesand expectations
ofresidentsand to be less
the
more
controlled
sheltersoffer
well-staffed, smaller,
tightly
moreprivacyand amenities,
suchas individualroomsforeach
familyand fewerclientspercase manager.
Althoughthemore
comfortable
environment
is
living
accompaniedbymorestrinthesesheltersare almostalways full,and
gentregulations,
homeless
many
peoplearenotacceptedintothemdue tolack
ofspace.Moreover,
staff
at thesmallerfamilyshelterstendto
acceptthosehomelesspeople who appearmost"motivated"
or mostlikelyto successfully
transition
out of homelessness
withinthethreemonthsthattheyliveat theshelter.
Thismay
excludesome mentallyill women,althoughthosewho have
been "stabilized"on medicationaresometimesaccepted.
This projectattemptsto explicatethecultural,historical,
and socialforcesinvolvedintheformation
ofhomelessness
as
a "publicproblem"(Gusfield1981),and in theattendant
developmentof solutionsto it.Like othercities,WestCityhas
definedhomelessnessas a problemtobe addressedby social
workersemployedin facilitiespartiallyfundedby thestate
(as opposed to,forexample,familiesor housingdevelopers
forconfronting
theissue) and
havingprimaryresponsibility
has respondedprincipally
byopeningtemporary,
emergency
shelters
ratherthanbuildingpermanent,
low-income
housing
(Huttmanand Redmond1992;Funiciello1993).Assigningthe
problemof "fixing"homelesspeople to social workersindividualizesand medicalizesthereasonsthatpeople become

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

79

homeless, since social workeras social deviance expert


(Nathanson1991:12-14)helpspeopletofindhousingnotonly
byadvocatingforthemwithhousingprogramsorothersocial
beserviceagencies,butalso by eradicating"dysfunctional"
haviors.Accordingto a narrativeof "social deviance,"such
in theloss ofhousing.As
behaviorshave been instrumental
ConstanceNathansonargues,
Thereis intheUnitedStatesa powerfulstraintoward
and socialchangein
locatingthesourcesofsocialconflict
thefailings
ofindividualsratherthanin theinadequacies
Social dislocationsthatresultfrom
ofsocialinstitutions.
socialand economicchangeareframedas perlarge-scale
sonal problemsand theirsolutionscouchedin termsof
in individualbehavior(Nathanson1991:223).
alterations

ofhomelessnessas a problemofmentalillThe construction


ness,drug and alcohol addiction,and a "streetperson"or
and further
establishesan unreflects
"underclass"mentality,
derstandingof povertyas an individualfailingand social
workersurveillanceand controlin thesheltersettingas the
focusofsolutionsto homelessness.
In addition to exploring narratives of poverty and
thisessayexaminesthephysicalenvironment
homelessness,
of staffto client,arguing
ofthesheltersand therelationship
with
in
homeless
shelter
residentsinteract
thatspaces which
as thestories
one anotherand withthestaffare as important
thatwomentellabouthow theyhave becomehomeless.Alof homelesspeople
thoughseveralexcellentethnographies
have been publishedin the past severalyears(Kozol 1988;
Wolch
Golden1992;Liebow 1993;Wagner1993),as Jennifer
s TELL THEM WHO
pointsoutinherreviewofElliotLiebow7
I AM: THE LIVES OF HOMELESS WOMEN,therehavebeen
relativelyfew studies thatattemptto integratehomeless
oftheinstitutional
people'slifestorieswithan understanding
in
reside:
"How does
homeless
which
sheltered
people
spaces

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withthebiographiesor life
thehomeless'industry'intersect
theirabilityto
pathsand dailyroutinesofindividualstoaffect
with
institutional
context
of
the
homelessness,
particucope
1995:
institutions?"
to
resist
domination
(Wolch
byhelping
larly
of
Liebow
to
examine
the
institutional
context
180).
begins
homelessnessby studyingthe effectsof shelterrules,case
and "geographic
constraints"
onthedaily
managerphilosophy
research
intends
livesofhomelesswomenin theshelters.
My
tofurther
spaceson theexexploretheimpactofinstitutional
inparconcentrating
periencesofhomelesspeopleinshelters,
the
and attempts
tocontrol
ticularon theconstant
surveillance
and residentresisdailylives of homelessshelterresidents,
tanceto staff
control.
As recipients
of government
fundingand subjectto govWestCityhomelessshelters
ernmentoperatingregulations,
for
intrusion
and surserveas institutional
spaces government
oftheadvanceof"disveillance.2
MichelFoucaulthas written
utilizedbythestatein a varietyofinciplinary
technologies,"
stitutional
to"transto
control
bodies,tocreatedocility,
settings
form"and "improve"(Foucault1995;Rabinow1984:17).The
reliesupon constantobservahomelessshelteras institution
tionand recordingofresidentactions,as well as theirsocial
to
and sexualhistories,
as techniquesofpowerthatallowstaff
"know"homelessshelterresidents
and to measureand judge
themagainsta "homogenous
socialbody"(Foucault1995:184),
conceivedas theproductive,
sane,and moralnorm.
Foucaulthas notedthatthedevelopment
of"hierarchized
and controlthosein
as a toolto bothobjectify
surveillance,"
and
created
prisons,schools,
hospitals,
...anarchitecture
thatis no longerbuiltsimplyto be
seen...butto permitan internal,
articulated
and detailed
- torendervisiblethosewhoareinsideit;inmore
control
thatwouldoperatetotransan architecture
generalterms,
to providea
formindividuals:to acton thoseit shelters,
tocarrytheeffects
ofpowerrightto
holdontheirconduct,

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

81

toalterthem(1995:
tomakeitpossibletoknowthem,
them,
172).

Thisarticleexaminesthegeographyofseveralhomelessshela long-term
transitional
ters,includingPeople in Transition,
housingshelterforelderlyand disabledpeople (whereAngie
and Franklived),as wellas twosheltersforfamilieswithchildren,theFamilyShelterand theLighthouse.It also willprotocase manager
videa pictureofhomelesspeople'sresistance
and shelterrules,whichforsomeentailslivingin
surveillance
campsaroundthecityand forothersmeanssmall,dailyacts
withintheshelter.
ofresistance
thecreationofa file
toolwithintheshelters,
As a keystaff
on each resident,
includinga "case plan" or listof goals the
combinesthetechresident
is toworkonwhileintheprogram,
"the
to transform
and
normalization
of
observation
niques
ofpower"(Foucault1995:
intotheexercise
economyofvisibility
which
means
residentsare "known,"
187).As thecentral
by
socialworkersinWest
and controlled,
professional
objectified
Citysheltersdetaileach resident'spast personalhistoryand
current
goals,and recordtheresident's"progress"byfollowingheror his activitieson a dailybasis.As Foucaultargues,
an act
"thecase is no longer... a setofcircumstances
defining
... it is theindividualas he maybe described,judged,mea. ." (Fousured,comparedwithothers...trainedand corrected.
case
filein
case
and
the
shelter
1995:
cault
191).Through
plan
whichstaffrecordedclient"progress,"thehomelessperson
himselfor herself(ratherthanhomelessnessas a politicalissue ortheeventsand issuesthatcausedsomeonetolosehousand correction.
control,
ing)becomestheobjectofinquiry,

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82

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The FamilyShelter
The FamilyShelterforhomelessfamilieswithchildrenis
motorlodgeon a streetlined
housedina renovated,
one-story
in
withsimilarmotels, variousstatesofdisrepairand now offamilies
and
fersprimarily
weektoweekrentalstolow-income
forattractothers.Althoughthestreetitselfhas thereputation
it
flanked
is
dealers
and
sex
workers,
by low- to
ing drug
communities.
tree-lined
residential
middle-income,
Duringthe
to
arefilledwithpeoplewalkingand bicycling
daythestreets
and fromworkand school.
TheFamilyShelterhas 26 units,eachofwhichhousesone
Thesmalleroftheunitsconsistofa bedroomand small
family.
and thelargercontaina familyroom,bedroom
kitchenette,
and kitchenette.
Everyunitis almostalwaysfull;sometimes
vacanciesoccurfora day or twowhenone familymovesout
has to
and anothermovesin,buttheFamilyShelterconstantly
turnpeopleaway forlackofspace.Shapedin a "U" arounda
and so
grassyfield,theunitshaveseparate,outsideentrances
The roomstendto be smalland
resemblesmallapartments.
Most
oldbutnotindisrepair.
and
linoleum
dark,thecarpeting
colresidents
trytomaketheroomsmorehomeybythrowing
orfulblanketsoverdingycouchesand occasionallytapinga
child'sdrawingto thewall,thoughtheyare asked in a comprehensivelistofrules,receivedwhentheyentertheshelter,
to thewalls.
to avoid nailingpostersor otherdecorations
A separatebuildinghousesa brightchildcarecenterwith
a roomforinfantsfilledwithtoys,cribs,and highchairs,a
toddlerroom,and a roomforchildrenage fiveand olderwith
books,and games.Alltheroomsdisplaychildren's
computers,
outsideis
and
drawings paintingsand thefencedplayground
withtoysandbikes.In additiontothechildcarearea,
scattered
areas containswingsand
severalothergrassyor sand-filled
Availablefrom7:00a.m.to6:00p.m.to
othertoysforchildren.
theon-site
residents
who areworkingor have appointments,

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

83

childcarecenter,
whichdoes notchargea feeto shelterresitooffer
their
dents,is a luxurythatmostshelterscannotafford
clients.
Children
arefedbreakfast,
and
a
lunch,
snack,andwork
in theyard,
on artprojects,
on
the
or
outside
play
computer,
overseenbya full-time
staffand volunteers.
Anotherbuildingaccommodatesthecase managers7
and
anda conference
room.As mentioned
"jobdeveloper's"offices
a case manager
above,when familiesfirstenterthe shelter,
meetswiththeparentsto drawup an individualizedplanfor
entranceinto
securinghousingand employment,
facilitating
GED orjob training
or
classes, mandatingattendanceat drug
rehabilitation
and continuesto meetweeklywith
counseling,
theresidentto updatehis or herprogressand offerinterventionand advocacywhenneeded.Thesemeetingsare fraught
with demands by staffforinformation
about a homeless
resident's
and motivations
(Marin1987:47).
activities,
feelings,
such
for
information
Indeed,
requests
begineven beforeadmittanceto theshelter,
sinceeach personmustrespondto a
seriesofpersonalquestionsregardinghis or hercurrentcirifhe orshewishestobe consideredfortheshelter.
cumstances
Onceaccepted,thehomelesspersonis askedevenmorequesthoseaboutcurrent
and
tions,including
personalrelationships
socialandsexualhistories.
Thoseunwilling
toanswerpersonal
questionsor to keepstaffconstantly
apprisedoftheirwhereabouts(byrecording
thetimestheyleave and destinations
on
a sign-outsheetin theoffice)maybe considereduncooperativeorsuspectedof"havingsomething
to hide."
Residents,
however,attemptto avoid sharinginformation
withstaff,
somebecausetheydo notwishtorevealeverything
aboutthemselvesto a relativestranger,
othersbecause they
willapproveofhowtheyhavespent
areuncertain
whether
staff
theirtime,foreseeing
evictionshoulda case managerbelieve
theyhave squanderedtheirdays.Stillothersfearincriminator anotherfamilymemberbygivingpersonal
ingthemselves
information
to a social serviceagencythatwill permanently

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84

URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY

VOL. 25(1), 1996

recordit.Forexample,onecasemanager,
Laura,warneda residentthatshe probablywould notbe allowedto stayanother
monthat theshelterifshe did notbeginto talkto staffabout
and feelings.The homelessresident,
heractivities
Mareia,explainedthatshedidnottalktoLaurabecauseshe"didn'tknow
her."Laura respondedthatMareiawould onlyget to know
herby talkingwithher,ignoringMareia's pointthatshe did
with
and frustrations
notwishtoshareherinnermost
thoughts
butratherwas someonein a
someonewho was nota friend,
writingaboutherwork
positionofpoweroverher.Similarly,
ina shelterforsinglehomelesswomen,Lisa Ferrilldescribesa
scenein whichshe assistsa homelesswoman,who had lived
at theshelterforsometime,to settleintoa permanent
placementin a nursinghome:
ordersnottokeepintouch
Nancyhadgivenus allfirm
withher.She wantedto "forget
aboutthatplace/'Mary
and I wishedherwell and said goodbye,knowingwe
wouldmissherendearing
personality,
knowingshewould
to her.We had benotmisstheinvasionwe represented
in Nancy'slife;she would
come uninvitedparticipants
haveitbacknow...(Ferrill1991:73).

EchoingFerriirspointregardingtheinvasivenessof the
Euro-Americanwomanin
sheltersystem,Erin,a 28-year-old
forWestCityFamicalled
Endowment
a transitional
program
lies (EWF),expressesangerat theconstantrequestsforperas a resultofherintersonalinformation
she has experienced
actionswithsocial serviceworkers.Arguingthathomeless
peoplearenot"sickordiseased"butthatthey"couldbe anyone,"she despairsofhavinganypartofherlifenotrecorded
in agencyfiles:"I havetoanswertoAFDC, VocationalRehab,
EWF.I have to tellall thesepeoplewhatI'm doing....I didn't
withmynew boytellthem[at EWF] aboutmyrelationship
friendbecause I wantedone partofmypersonallifeto myshownherbysocialserself."She complainsthatthedistrust

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

85

vice workershas sometimesmade hersand otherhomeless


Forexample,AFDC wanted
people'slivesmorecomplicated.
Erinto lookforwork,butshe was excusedfromdoingso because she was takingclasses throughVocationalRehabilitation.AFDC employeesdemandedthatErincome intotheir
officeto do herhomeworkin orderto provethatshe was too
untilVocationalRehabusywithittosearchforemployment,
bilitation
steppedin on Erin'sbehalfand theAFDC workers
withdrewtheirrequest.
The expectations
thatresidentsshouldsharetheirprivate
liveswithstaff,
combinedwithstaffmonitoring
and regulationofbothcommunity
and privatespace,allow case managers at theFamilyShelterto constantly
keep residentsunder
observation.
TheFamilyShelterhas twocommunity
areasfor
offices
and an outside
adults,a largeroomattachedtothestaff
coveredpatio.Thespaceinsidecontainscouches,a phone,and
a deskwhichcanbe used byresidentsto makecallsforhousingorjobs.Becausean open doorleads fromthisroomto the
mainshelterreceptionarea,conversations
can be overheard
the
staff
member
on
at
the
desk.Moreeasilyby
duty
reception
over,residentsmaynothave people fromoutsidetheshelter
intheirrooms,and mustleavethedoorsand windowsoftheir
unitsopenwheneveranothershelterresidentvisits,enabling
staff
tohaveaccesstoresident"personalspace"through
uninWeisman
that
the
rules
disallowterrupted
supervision.
posits
visitors
at
most
or
the
lackofprivatespaceinwhich
shelters,
ing
to entertain
themshouldtheybe permitted
on site,"suggests
thathomelesspeople do not need privacy,self-expression,
and sexualrelations,
or at leastthattheseneeds
friendships,
shouldnotbe takenseriously"(1992:78). Indeed,theFamily
Shelterregulations
regardingprivatespace and theoverseeof
ing publicspace by case managersseem designedto disof friendships
or sexual relationships
couragetheformation
as well as betweenresidentsand those
amongtheresidents,
notstayingat theshelter.

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VOL. 25(1), 1996

As a resultofthemanyrulesregarding
privatespace and
takes
accesstothecommunity
staff
room,socializinggenerally
with
a
it
on
one
side
Since
is
surrounded
on
the
patio.
place
fencedchildren'splaygroundand on theotherswitha small
parkinglot,anyapproachingpersoncan be seen well before
he orshecomesintoearshot.In orderforwomentochoosethe
roomon a WestCity
community
patioovertheairconditioned
warm
as
110
of
can
be
as
summerday (which
), theattraction
and
freefromstaffmembers'management
an area relatively
seemtoperceivethat
control
mustbe strong.Indeed,residents
as
conversations
are
under
surveillance,
stoporlowerto
they
a whisperwhena staffmemberwalksby,regardlessofhow
commonplaceorinnocuousthetopic.
areoftenframedbythedisStaffand residentinteractions
betweenthem.A formofeasy
parityin powerand authority
bantersometimesexistsbetweenone case manager,Mark,a
othEuro-Americaninhis40s,and severaldifferent
residents;
ers admitto feelinguneasyaroundor judged by Markand
a Euro-Americanwomanwiththreechildren,
otherstaff.
Betsy,
"authoritarian"
complainsthatMarkhas grownincreasingly
as theend ofherstayat thesheltergrowscloser.She has secureda job as a seamstress
paid bythepieceand has founda
shecan movetoin severalweeks.She delow-rent
apartment
ofthepowerdiftheeffect
scribesan incidentthathighlights
betweenstaffand clients.Severalnightsprevious,
ferential
had notreturned
whenBetsydiscoveredthatanotherresident
totheshelterbycurfew(and indeedthewomanstayedoutall
night),she looked aftertheresident'schildren.Betsyclaims
thatwhenMarkdiscoveredthatshehad watchedthechildren
theclient,he "yelledatme,sayall nightratherthanreporting
ofmysister."Embarrassed
by
ingI was on hisshitlistinfront
ofherin front
ofa familymemthecase manager'streatment
unableto respondin
berwho was notstayingat theshelter,
kinddue to his abilityto evicther("verbalabuse" ofstaffis
Betsyfeltthatshe had beentreated
groundsfortermination),

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

87

likea childbuthad no recoursethatwould notjeopardizeher


stay.
Perhapsby way ofexplaininghis sometimespatronizing
attitudetowardtheresidents,
Markarguesthatmanypeople
becomehomelessas adultsas a resultofhavinggrownup in
families.He believesthatpeople withdys"dysfunctional"
functional
wheredrugs,alcohol,domesfamily
backgrounds,
ticviolence,and dependenceupon AFDC or otherformsof
welfarethrived,
havea greaterchanceofhavingsimilarproblemsin theirlivesas adults.Moreover,
Markasserts,theyare
oftenunable or unwillingto keep stable employment.He
claims,though,thatonlyaboutfivepercentofhomelessshelterresidents'
workhistories
canbe attributed
tolaziirregular
ness.Mostdo wanttoworkbutaredepressedorafraidtolook
in interviews,
forworkor participate
or despitetheirbesteffortscannotfindpermanent,
full-time
orhavea
employment,
In additionto
mentalillnessthatinterferes
withemployment.
theseotherdifficulties,
he argues,manyhomelesspeoplelack
and
othershave problemswithdrugsand alfamilysupport
toMark,mandatory
cohol.According
classesforlowparenting
incomepeople providea keyto breakingthe "cycleof dysfunction,"as such classes teach them differentways of
thatavoid "passingdown"dysfunctional
behavior.
parenting
The FamilyShelterstaff'sfocuson dysfunctional
families
oforiginas an explanationforhomelessnesshelpsto account
fortheirmixofkindness,respect,and condescensiontoward
theresidents.If a personnow homelessgrewup in a home
whereviolenceand druguse werethenorm,thiswayofthinkifshehas
inggoes,thenthatpersoncanbe somewhatforgiven
marriedan alcoholicand neitherofthemcan findpermanent
work,becauseshewitnesseda similardynamicas a child.This
also explainsMark'sinclination
to treathomelesspeopleas if
theywerelessthanadults,as he believesthattheyarelacking
fundamental
lifeskillsthatwill allow themto be successful
and happy,lifeskillsthathe arguesare his responsibility
to

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ensurethattheylearn.He espousesa theoryakinto the"cultureofpoverty"thesis,arguingthatlow-incomepeoplefrom


families,"
"dysfunctional
includingthosewho aredependent
on welfare,
pass on thisway oflifeto theirchildren.
Like Mark,cultureof povertyadvocatesclaimthatlowincomefamiliesarepoordue toinherited
behavioraldeficiencies (suchas laziness,inability
to delaygratification,
and irrewill
in
turn
that
teach
their
children.
sponsiblesexuality) they
Thiswould createone generation
afteranother"who,lacking
and rearedwithoutconsistent
and close
familyorganization
relationswithadults ... are passive,have difficulty
withabstractthinking
and communication,
seek escape fromproblemsthroughrelatively
uninhibited
expressionsofsex or aglack
and
are
unable
to plan forthefugression, ego strength
ture."^Wherethecultureofpovertyis used as an explanation
forpovertyorhomelessness,
thosetrying
to "help"thehomelesswill,likeMark,insiston compulsory
classesand
parenting
mandatory
meetingswiththe"job developer"at theshelter.
As MichaelKatz argues,however,thecultureofpovertythesisis ambiguousand tautological:
"Thepathological
behavior
ofpoorpeoplecausestheirpoverty,
whichis thesourceoftheir
behavior"
1989:
Itprecludesa focus
(Katz
41-42).
pathological
on thepatterns
of"inclusionand exclusioninAmericanlife,"
and on "unemployment
and structural
tounderdislocation,"
standwhypeoplearepoor(Katz 1989:237-238).
The Lighthouse
In contrast
totheoccasionalwarmorbrighttouchesat the
and a somewhatsupportiveenvironment,
the
FamilyShelter,
Lighthousefamilyshelteris starkand depressing.It too is
housed in a formermotel,but thebare linoleumfloorsand
fluorescent
lights,combinedwithroomsthatopenontoa hallthanseparateoutsideentrances
foreachroom,make
wayrather

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

89

fora less invitingshelter,


as well as one in whichhomeless
A two-story
families
havelessprivacy.
buildingfacinga courtwith
a
the
shelter
is
one of severalsimilar
yard
pool,
family
buildingswithina largeLighthousecomplex.Otherbuildings
in thecomplexcontainan alcoholrehabilitation
centerand a
in
cafeteria.
The
is
one
of
the
more
large
complex
high-crime
and dilapidatedareasofthecity,
surrounded
the
by occasional
rundowndinerorauto shop.
A bedroom and a bathroomgenerallycompriseeach
unlessthefamilyhas severalchilfamily'saccommodations,
in
which
case
rooms.Comdren,
theymayhavetwoconnecting
areasarein shortsupply,consisting
ofa playroomfor
munity
a smallsandyareanexttotheparkinglotwitha swing
children,
setand severalpicnictables,and a smalllibrary
/readingroom
thatremainslockedexceptduringspecifiedhourswhena voland
unteerreadsaloud tothechildren.
Althoughthecafeteria
serve
severalmeetingroomsin thecomplexmightostensibly
as alternativecommunity
areas,residentsmay not use the
and
enter
thecafeteria
rooms
meeting
may
onlyduringspeciand dinner
fiedmealtimes.Duringthehourswhenbreakfast
clientsmustexitfromtheshelter
are servedat thecafeteria,
and thedoorstothebuildingarelocked.The shelterdoes not
allow familiesto eat in theirrooms.
The Lighthousehas manyofthesame rulesas theFamily
alcoholanddrugs,weapons,and
Shelter,
including
disallowing
verbaland physicalabuse on or offthesheltergrounds.Such
rulesminimizechaosand ensurethatlifeat theshelterfeelsas
in theory,
theserules
as possible.4Moreover,
non-threatening
will
providea modicumofassurancethatresidents be treated
withoutsomereceivingprivilegesthatothersdo not.5
fairly,
In additionto rulesbasic to safeand comfortable
communal
the
others
that
aremore
living,however, Lighthouseimposes
or invasive.For example,detailedregulationsdestringent
forwearingbothinthecafeteria
and
scribeacceptableclothing
thebuildingwhichhouses theshelter.Everyonemustwear

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VOL. 25(1), 1996

shoesat all timeswhenoutsidetheirrooms,thoughmenmay


wearsandalswhilewomenand childrenmaynot.Womenare
whichincludes"loose fitting
instructed
to dress"modestly/7
... shortshortsand tanktopsare
blousesand regularT-shirts
Brassieres
are
notpermissible.
Althoughthereis no
required/'
written
mandatethatmendress"modestly/'
theymustalways
and therulesdisallow"openshirtsshowing[the]
wearshirts,
neitherwomennor men may wear
chest."In the cafeteria,
shortsofanykind:womenare toldto wearjeans,dressesor
and mento wearjeansorotherslacks.
skirts,
The Lighthousesickpolicyis also spelledoutin somedetail.Unlessa clientcomplainsofillness,staff
expectseveryone
whichenin a dailyjob searchor employment,
to participate
tailsexitingtheshelterfrom8:30a.m. to 2:30p.m.,as well as
Ifa shelattendgroupand individualmeetingsat theshelter.
terresident
becomesill,a case managerwilltakehertemperaifshe has a fever;ifshe does not,she must
tureto determine
in thedailyactivities.
Shoulda residentcontinue
participate
totheshelterand restfor24 hours,
tofeelsick,shemayreturn
the
butshe muststayin herroomduringthattime.Together
sickpolicyand dresscode suggestthatshelterresidentsconuninand immodestly
formtothelazy,sexuallyirresponsible
oftheculture
ofpoverty
hibited"underclass"
thesis;thusLightassumesthattheycannotbe trustedtolookforjobs
housestaff
(theywillfeignsicknessto avoid work),norto controlthemLesttheirlibidosorlazinessinfringe
selvessexually.
upontheir
orcarefortheirchildren,
abilitiestopursueemployment
Lighttowardthepathof
houserulesaredesignedtoguideresidents
"acceptable"behavior.
In additiontothoseruleswhichappearovertly
controlling
other
orseemtounnecessarily
lifestyles,
infringe
uponresident
forresidents,
shelterrulessimplycreatemoredifficulties
parin situationsin whicha job mightbe at stake.Forinticularly
stance,parentsmustsupervisetheirchildrenat all times,and
unliketheFamilyShelter(whichallows residentsto baby-sit

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91

forone anotheron a limitedbasisand also has a day carecenteron site) Lighthouseresidentscannotwatcheach other's
nordoes itoffer
children,
day care.Violationofeithertherule
ordisallowingbaby-sitting
could
childsupervision
mandating
However,tofindjobs
jeopardizea person'sstayat theshelter.
forexample,residents
orsignup forvocationaltraining,
might
need to be on thephone providedfortheir"business"use,
foundon a tableinthenoisymainhall.As phonecallsmustbe
maximumat theriskoflosinguse ofthe
kepttoa five-minute
phone,and thehallis filledwithchildrenand adultsshouting
timesoundingprofesand talking,residentshave a difficult
sional.To haveto supervisesometimesunrulychildrenwhile
to seem reon thephonemakesit thatmuchmoredifficult
to
a
number
of the
to
who, according
sponsible employers,
people interviewed,alreadydo not wish to hirehomeless
people.
Thefront
doorleadingin and outoftheLighthouseis next
and therulesrequestthatresidentssignout
tothestaff
office,
and signinwhentheyreturn.
whenevertheyleavetheshelter,
oftheshelter,
residentssignin and
Accordingto thedirector
out so thatthestaffcan "monitor"themafterresidentshave
testsmaybe
orbreathalyzer
beenawayfortheday.Urinalysis
givenwhenevera clientis "suspected"ofdrugoralcoholuse.
In ordertoensurethatstaff
can supervisethosestayingat the
shelter,
theykeep residentroomkeysin theoffice.Upon remustrequesttobe letintotheir
residents
totheshelter,
turning
roomsand wait untila case managerhas thetimeto do so.
AfricanAmericanresidentoftheshelter,
Freda,a 28-year-old
complainsthatthestaff'scontinuousaccess to herroom(as
well as herenforcedrelianceon themforherown access)increasesa powerdifferential
alreadysharplyfeltby herand
someotherresidents(see also Funiciello1993:183):
Thisplace is greatiftheydidn'thave assholeswho
The[casemanagers]havethekeyto
feltreallypowerful....

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92

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VOL. 25(1),1996

yourroomand we don't.I'd be crazyto leave myTV in


myroom.Theymakeyou waitand waitto getyourkey,
evenifyourkidhas to go to thebathroom.
Theyunlock
thedoorforyou and thesame keyunlocksall thedoors
[intheshelter].

on many
an establishedconvention
Withsuchstaffintrusion
treatment
as well as thepatronizing
fronts
at theLighthouse,
of residentsexemplified
by thesickpolicy'smandatethata
to provethatshe
takenbystaff
womanhave hertemperature
oftenresenttheirloss of
thatresidents
is ill,itis notsurprising
independence,even while feelingrelievedto have founda
shelterwithan opening.Fredagoeson todescribean incident
betweenstaff
withstaff
thatsuccinctly
capturestherelationship
and clientat theLighthouse:
WhatI don'tlikeaboutthisplace are thrulesand
and theabuseofauthority
bycase managers.
regulations,
and I
The othernightat 8:30 p.m.I was doinglaundry,
laughedloud witha womanI was talkingto,and thecase
managertoldme to be quiet,thathe had made another
parentgo to bed at 8:00p.m.and he could makeme go
too....Theydon'trespectourprivacy.
Theytalkand laugh
aboutyou,makefunofyou....Theybringtheirpersonal
livesintothisplace.Iftheyhavea bad day,youfeelit.

Aftertheincidentin thelaundryroom,Fredaaskedtosee her


file,and foundthatthe staffhas been keepingtrackof the
thatcasemanchecksthathavearrivedforher.Sheconjectures
of
the
check
the
amount
are
able
to
see
throughtheenagers
velopeand recordit.
I was hesitantaboutgetting
myfile.Ifyou tryto enforceyourrights,
theygiveyou themessagenotto rock
theboat.Technically
theycouldkickmeouton thestreet.
I'd have to stayin a motel,but themotelsaroundhere
reallysuck.The one we werestayingin [priorto coming
to theshelter]had two rats.A lot ofpeople would [feel

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

93

iftheyfeltsafethat
morecomfortable
about]complain[ing]
theywouldn'tbe putout.You can getputoutfortalking
backtoa case manager."

and "abuse ofauthority"


In additionto theencroachment
by
the
staff's
to
shelterstaff,
ability "put out" homelesspeople
increaseresicombineswithothershelterrulestosignificantly
abouttheirhousing.
dentinsecurity
Ineveryshelter,
toadmitordischarge
staff
hastheauthority
a powerthatweighsheavilyontheminds
anyhomelessfamily,
of most residents.However disrespectfulor disdainfula
shelter'sstaffmightbe towardclients,residentsrepeatedly
approachcase managersabout theirstatusat the shelter.A
forexample,shehas beenblamed
womanmightask whether,
orwhethera case
betweenseveralresidents,
foran argument
sheis workinghardenoughtoresolvehersitumanagerthinks
ation.Otherslistand turnin to staffeach week a recordof
prospect
everyjob applicationtheyhavefiledoremployment
to ensurethatstaffknowstheyhave
theyhave investigated
notsquanderedtheirtime.To thehomelesspeople livingat
thisis nota pettydetail:theirabilityto remain
theshelters,
houseddependson it.Thoughmostsheltershave fundingto
supporteachhomelessfamilyfor90 days,mostadmitpeople
makesa decisionat the
forlesstime,suchas 30 days,and staff
end ofthattimeaboutwhethera residentmeritsan extension
to 90 days.A personwho staffperceivesnot to be working
hardenough,to havebrokenrules,or to have createddisharmightnotreceivean extension.
monyamongotherresidents,
havemorerequestsforshelSincemostshelters
consistently
terthantheycanmanage,withsomeofthesmalleronesturningaway morepeople in thecourseofa yearthantheyhave
housed,casemanagerswanttoknowas soonas possiblewhen
residentplansto leave.Sometimesresidentssimply
a current
totheshelterintheevening,leavingtheirclothes
do notreturn
and otherpersonalbelongingsin theirrooms.Some call to

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94

URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY

VOL. 25(1), 1996

thattheydo notwishtoremainattheshelter,
whileothverify
ersnevercontactstaff
again.Case managers'needtomaintain
tosternwarnonbedavailability
translates
current
information
ingsorautomaticevictionforcurfewviolations.If,however,a
resident
is lateonlyonce,atmostshelters
sheusuallycancount
on herbed stillbeingavailableto herwhenshe returns
to the
shelter.
Whilemostshelters
admitpeoplefora certaintimeperiod,
forexampleone month,and homelesspeople knowtheycan
depend on housing for at least that lengthof time,the
Lighthouse'swrittenrulesinformresidentsthatroomsare
"providedon a consecutivenightbasis/' and residentsrisk
to
losingtheirroomstoanotherhomelessfamilyiftheyreturn
theshelterafter6:00 p.m. withoutpriorstaffauthorization.
Whena homelessfamily
first
enterstheshelter,
theLighthouse
willindicatethata resident'sprogramperformance
will
staff
be reviewedwithintwoweeksofhisor herarrival,withcontinuedstaycontingent
upon theresident'sactivitiesand efforts.In thatsense,iftheycomplywiththeregulations,
residentswillbe ensuredat leasttwoweeksofshelter.
However,
case managerssenda mixedmessagewhentheyalso statein
therulesthatresidentsmustsecuretheirroomson a nightby
nightbasis,creatingfearin a residentthatshe will returnto
theshelterin theeveningpast6:00p.m.to findthatherroom
has beengivento anotherfamily.
Forresidents
toconform
totheLighthouse
mandate
trying
thattheycompletefivejobinterviews
orapplications
eachday,
who mustalso pickup theirchildrenafterschoolor day care,
it maybe difficult
to exactlytimetheirarrivalat theshelter.
ofresidents
forthemajority
who arewithoutcars
Particularly
and rideoftenunreliablebuses(bus arrivaltimesinWestCity
mayvaryas muchas a halfhourfromthepostedtimeson
someroutes)orwalktoappointments,
thefearthattheirrooms
if
have
been
return
may
givenaway they
pastcurfewadds to
theirconsiderabledailystress.A residentmightbe tardydue

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95

to a delayedbus,havingbeen unableto finda pay phoneat


thebus stopin ordertocalltheshelterand letthemknowshe
wouldbe latebeforeboardingthebus,and afraidtoleave the
stoptolookfora phoneforfearthatthebuswouldarrivewhile
she was gone.However,theLighthousestaffis proneto suswho arrivelatein theeveningsdue to spepectthatresidents
haveactuallybeenusingdrugsorarelying
cialcircumstances
reand thosewho needto regularly
abouttheirwhereabouts,
turnaftercurfewdue to a job usuallymustundergoa testfor
drugoralcoholconsumption.
describesitsfamilyshelteras a "workproTheLighthouse
gram/'statingthatifa residentdoes notfinda job withintwo
atleast32 hoursa weekand notina
weeks,workingregularly
she probablywill be asked to
positionmakingcommission,
ifthecase managerallows,a
leavetheprogram.
Alternatively,
residentcan participatein trainingprogramsand part-time
workwherehoursspentin bothtotalat least32. The shelter
findwork,buteven
doeshavea jobdevelopertohelpresidents
are limited.Manymale resiwithhis help theopportunities
or otherjobs typidentshaveexperienceonlyin construction
basis
orseasonalor
workon a projectbyproject
callyoffering
positions.Femaleresidentsmay have workedfor
part-time
or as
services,in fastfoodor otherrestaurants,
housekeeping
childcareneedscanpreclude
cashiersinretailstores.Juggling
acceptingcertainjobs sincesome day carefacilities(secured
ofEconomic
withthehelpoftheDepartment
fortheresidents
in
the
children
care
for
do
not
evenings.TransportaSecurity)
tionis also a problem;busesinWestCitydo notrunafter10:00
p.m.,and in somepartsofthecitythelastbuses comeat 7:00
p.m.and do notrunat all on theweekends.A numberofresiat minimumwage in
dentstakejobs at fastfoodrestaurants
and thosewith
ordertoensurethattheycanstayintheshelter,
makeno morethan$6.00to $8.00
jobs typically
better-paying
an hour.Yet povertyis a primaryreasonthatpeople have

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96

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VOL. 25(1), 1996

traceablein largeparttolow-paying
orirregusoughtshelter,
larjobs.
More obviouslythanin othershelters,some Lighthouse
staffseempredisposedto distrust
homelesspeople.One staff
describedshelmember,
Tom,a Euro-Americaninhislate-20s,
terresidentsin thisway:
ofhomelesspeopledon'twanttowork.
Ninetypercent
Mostsheltersdon'tforcepeople to work- they'relike
threemonthvacationsforpeople.You getyourrent,your
foodpaid for- it'sgreat!Whywouldn'tanyonewantto
liveforfree?I knowpeoplewho go toAlaska,thencome
hereforthreemonths'[vacation]and stayin a shelterfor
thattime.
I knowtherearea lotofpeoplewhogo fromshelterto
shelter- they'dratherdo drugsand drinkthanhave to
work.Forsomeofthem,theymakemoremoneyfrom
benefitsthantheydo atwork;whywouldtheywanttowork?
Allshelters
shouldbe workprograms
liketheLighthouse.
You can'tjustprovidefreesheltertothesepeopleand not
forcethemtowork.It'slikegivinga fatpersonwho'son a
dietlotsoffood- cakeand candybars- it'stootemptingforthem.These[homeless]peoplehave to be taught
responsibility.

Withits emphasison a mandatoryworkprogramand close


as opposedtoindividualattention
and case plans
supervision,
moretypicaloftheFamilyShelter,
theLighthouseprogramis
on
the
that
organized
principles peoplearehomelessthrough
theirown fault,becausetheydo notwantto work,or areusingdrugsand alcohol.
People in Transition
IftheFamilySheltertendstotreathomelessresidents
with
a mixture
ofwarmth,
and
and
the
support, paternalism,
Lighthouseregardsthemwithsuspicionandblame,PeopleinTran-

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

97

sitioncase managersoftentreattheirclientswithneglector
indifference.
Justa fewblocksfromtheLighthouse,
Peoplein
utilizesthreebuildingswithina citypublichousing
Transition
project.WhiletheFamilyShelterand Lighthouseare homelessshelters
PeopleinTransition
servingadultswithchildren,
describesitselfas a transitional
livingprogramand assists
single,elderlymenandwomen,orthoseover18whoarephysilivingprocallyor mentallydisabled.Likeothertransitional
in
for
Transition
provideshousing up to two
grams,People
bymostemergency
yearsratherthanthethreemonthsoffered
I
it
a
"shelter"
becausein
have
referred
to
as
shelters.
However,
shelter
manyways it morecloselyresemblesan emergency
Ratherthanhousingpeople
thana transitional
livingprogram.
houshomesas mosttransitional
inapartments
orsingle-family
in
clientslivetogether
do,PeopleinTransition's
ingprograms
rea complexmadeup ofseverallargesleepingrooms (three
servedformenand twoforwomen)eachofwhichhousesup
as the
to ninepeoplewho sharea bathroom.These "dorms/7
tothem,haveninebeds placedaroundtheroom
shelterrefers
at different
angles,in an attemptto providea bitofprivacy.
Eachbed has a nightstandbesideitand a padlockedtrunkat
thefootofthebed, theonlyspace forresidents'personalbelongingsbesidesseveralshareddressers.On topofthedressersare stackedpiles ofwomen'sclothing,
bedding,and perand womenalso makeuse ofthespace unsonalbelongings,
der theirbeds forthepossessionsthatwill notfitintotheir
trunks.
commuOtherroomsin thecomplexhosta largekitchen,
that
has
room
couches,sevnitydiningarea,and a recreation
These
eralbookcasesholdingtattered
novels,and a television.
bareand drab;neirooms,includingthedorms,areuniformly
therthestaffnortheresidentsattemptto providewall hangings,rugs,or otherdomestictouches.When,forinstance,a
womanmovesout oftheshelterand anotherhas notmoved
ofsheets,
intotakeherplace,thebed sheusedremainsstripped

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VOL. 25(1), 1996

blanketsor comforter,
withthebare,stainedmattress
and institutional
brownmetalbed frameservingas uglyanddepressreminders
thatthisis not"home."
ing
The area oftownand housingprojectitselfaredangerous
places forthelargelyelderlyclientele.Some residentsare in
use walkers,or move aroundslowlyand painwheelchairs,
fully;othershave hearingor sightproblems.Afraidto walk
aroundthesurrounding
area,whichis knownformuggings
(a formeremployeeof theshelterwas beatenwhilewaiting
fora bus acrossthestreetfromtheshelter),robbery,
and sex
within
residents
the
small
work,many
stay
yarddirectlyin
frontoftheclusterofbuildingswhichhouse them.Theyare
frustrated
and depressedby theirisolation,and evenwithin
thehousingprojectdo notalwaysfeelsafe,as theft,
vandalism,and assaulthave also occurredwithintheyard.In the
winterof 1994,two residentswitnessedseveralyoungmen
beatinganotherpersonon theprojectgrounds,and theresidentscalledthepolice.As thepolicehauledtheyouthsaway,
theyoungmen pointedto the elderlyshelterresidentsand
threatened
thattheywouldreturn
and "knewwhotheywere."
The staffofficesof People in Transition
are in a separate
buildingacrossthesmallyardfromthedorms,and remain
unlockedduringthehoursof10:00a.m.to12:00noonand 1:00
to4:00p.m.The officehas a phoneforresidentuse,and messages and mailmaybe pickedup as well.The twocase manoftheshelterstayin theiroffices
and rarely
agersand director
at
with
those
who
live
at
the
shelter,
speak length
exceptduringtheone houra week meetingthateach residenthas with
one ofthecase managers.Atthismeeting,
thecase manageris
tomonitor
and offer
aid ina resident'ssearchforhousing,emor
benefits, healthcare,and checkon theirmental
ployment,
and physicalhealth.One case managerroutinely
spendsanywherefromfiveto 15 minuteswithresidentsratherthanthe
hourset aside fortheweeklymeetings.Moreover,thiscase
managergenerallyemergesfromhis officeonlyonce during

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

99

theday,and as a result,residentsmostoftendeal withBeth,


ina rude
theadministrative
assistant.Bethspeakstoresidents
in
reticent
and
and
and condescending
way,
they, turn,appear
apologeticaroundher.One day I lunchedwithBethand two
Pat and Cathy,and Bethspokeas ifPat and
femaleresidents,
were
not
present.She suggestedthatitwouldbe "good
Cathy
for"thehomelesspeopleat theshelterto dressup in Hallowina talentshow,
eencostumeson October31stand participate
becauseitmight"increasetheirself-esteem."
Bethalso monitors
residents'mail,whichtheymustagree
in ordertobe admittedinto
to receiveat Peoplein Transition
theprogram.Whendisabilitychecks,food stamps,or paytheoffice
recordsthedate,andtheresidents
checksarrive,
(who
their
incomes
or
month
the
of
one-third
of
$100)
greater
payper
mustsignfortheirchecksand areaskedtopay theirfees.The
thatthoselivingat theshelter
systemrelieson theexpectation
willnotpayina timelymanner,
whichsupportsthebeliefthat
staff
shouldhaveaccesstotheirpersonalmailbeforetheresido.
dentsthemselves
InAugustof1994,a typicalmonthintermsofthemakeup
of the shelter,People in Transitionhoused 31 men and 20
AmerisixAfricanwomen,41 ofwhomwereEuro-American,
one Latinoand oneAsian.Sixteen
can,twoNative-American,
oftheresidents,
onlythreeofthemwomen,weredesignated
as having"substanceabuse"problems.
Anyonewitha history
ofheavyalcoholor druguse is notacceptedintotheshelter
orhavwithouthavinghad a threemonthperiodofabstinence
programpriortoapplyingcompleteda onemonthtreatment
allow
someone
intotheshelter
the
shelter.
Staff
might
ingto
butsucha decisionis
who has a shorter
periodofabstinence,
rare.Moreover,"substanceabusers"mustsubmitto random
orurinalysis
tests,attendAlcoholicsAnonymous
breathalyzer
and cannotdrinkon oroff
orNarcoticsAnonymousmeetings,
theshelterpremises.Althoughno one can use drugsin their
thestaffallowsmoderatealfreetimeaway fromtheshelter,

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100

URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY

VOL. 25(1), 1996

coholuse. However,ifsomeonedrinksand actsthreatening


or
he orshewillbe placedinthesubstanceabuse
"uncontrolled/7
and
unableto drinkagain.Upon theirinitialarbe
program
rivalat theshelter,
staffwarnsresidentsthatunannounced,
randomsearchesofthedormswillbe conductedbystaff;
such
searchesoccurwhenstaffsuspectsa residenthas been using
drugs.
As mightbe suggestedby some residents'abilityto consumealcoholofftheshelter
does
premises,
PeopleinTransition
nothave as manyrulesas theFamilyShelteror Lighthouse.
theft
fromtheshelterorother
Keepingweaponsat theshelter,
violenceor threatening
residents,
behavior,and missingthe
curfewof10:00p.m.can resultin eviction.On theotherhand,
case managerspermitresidents
to stayovernight
offthesheltergrounds,as long as theysubmita requestin advance,a
And thoughresidents
"privilege"othersheltersdo notoffer.
are notsupposedto visitin others7
dorms,staffmembersdo
not closelyor regularlymonitorresidentmovement,
except
fora nightly
bed check.
HomelessCamps
One alternative
to sheltersthatstillprovidesa semblance
of community
and mutualsupportexistsin the organized
campsitesthatdot thedesertand fruitorchardsaroundWest
City.One suchhomelesscampsiteis on state-owned
property
thatabutsa freewayoverpass.Justa halfmileoffa busythorthepanoplyofrustyvansand camperswhichmake
oughfare,
obscured
up thecampsitin a smallravineand arecompletely
fromtheroadbydesertbrushand trees.Approachedbya dirt
roadwhichendsata chainlinkfence,thepathtothecampcan
be accessedonlybyfootthrough
a breakinthefence.A whistle
on
with
the
fence
a
hand-lettered
hangs
signreading:"Beware!
Blow whistlebeforeentering!"
The sound ofthewhistlewill

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

101

residesatthecamp,surrounded
summonwhomevercurrently
by a pack oftenor so mangydogs who have been knownto
ifvisitors
bitepeople,particularly
venture
into
unaccompanied
thecamp.
Camp residentshave arrangedseveralcampershells,an
abandonedbus,and somerustyvansthatserveas livingquarabouttheedgesofthiscircle
tersintoa roughcircle.Scattered
are a varietyofold cars,trucksand bicyclesthattheresident
torepairorusingforpartstofixother
mechanicis attempting
cars. One camperservesas the community
food pantry,to
whichpeople stayingat thecampforlongerthana weekare
expectedto contribute,
accordingto theirmeans.
Althoughsome people come to thecamp in searchof an
and
alternative
totheshelterswiththeirregulations,
curfews,
thecamphas itsown setof
requestsforpersonalinformation,
rules.Verysickpeople (mentallyor physically)are notwelcome,norareheavydrugusersorthosewhogetviolentwhile
drunk.Such people disturbthequalityoflife,whichat least
Moreduringtheday seemspeacefuland somewhatsolitary.
over,theyrequirecarethattheotherresidentsdo notwishto
to the
or feelcapable to give,and mightcall undo attention
in
the
form
of
visitors
from
social
service
camp
agencies,or
possiblycityor stateauthorities
demandingthatthecampbe
vacated.
The camphas existedforfiveyears,withdifferent
people
in
and
out
this
a 35Bruce,
moving
throughout period,though
EuroAmerican
has
all
lived
here
for
man,
nearly five
year-old
inSeptember,
Bruce
years.At6:00a.m.on a Thursdaymorning
is alreadyawakeand workingon hislatestmechanicalproject,
fenda 1973Chevywithchippedgreenpaintand missingfront
tohimselfand thedogs thatrangearoundhim
ers,muttering
whilehe works.He sportsa scragglybeardand wears only
loose fitting
jeans heldup by a piece ofrope.Bruce'sreputationas a giftedmechanicoftenattracts
people withautomotiveproblemsand limitedresourcestothecamp.Someremain

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102

URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY

VOL. 25(1), 1996

onlyuntilBrucecompletestherepairs,whileothersstayon
formonthsand evenyears.SinceI have arrivedat thecamp
withLeon,a 30-year-old
AfricanAmericansocialworkerfrom
a cityorganizationwhichsends someoneto thecamps spotooffer
aid andhousingoptionstotheresidents,
Bruce
radically
is notfriendly
towardus, as he ostensiblymightbe toward
wordofmouthand
peoplewho hearaboutthecampthrough
seekitoutas a place to stayor forBruce's automotiveexpertise.Not happyaboutbeingdisturbed,
Brucechatsfora few
minutesabouthis attemptsto gain ownershipoftheChevy,
thenturnsback to his work.He respondsto Leon's offerof
blanketsand sleepingbags witha gruff
refusal.
We are soon joinedby Nancy,a 40-year-old
Euro-American womanwho is preparingforday laboron a construction
sitealongwithherboyfriend
and anotherwomanstayingat
thecamp.The manwho locatedthejob and has arrivedthat
morningto drivethemto thesiteis a formercamp resident
himselfwho now has his own apartment,
and occasionally
drivesouttothecamptovisitwithcurrent
He
campresidents.
has drivenNancyand theothersto theconstruction
job all
week,and thoughNancyadmitsthattheworkis physically
she and theothershavebeenreadyeachmornverydifficult,
wristis swollen
ingat 6:30a.m.Thismorningherboyfriend's
froman injuryincurredtheday before,buthe plansto work
anyway.
In contrast
to Bruce's barelycheckedannoyance,Nancyis
articulate,
funnyand warm.Withherhairbrushedback in a
it
ponytail,
freshly
polishednails,and cleanshortsand t-shirt,
is difficult
to tellthatshe livesin thedesertwithoutrunning
water.Leonbelievesthatshewouldleavethecampifhe could
help herentera shelteror findsubsidizedhousing,but her
is "a drinker"
and does notwishtoworkwithsocial
boyfriend
serviceagencies,and Nancywantsto livewithhim.Accordingto Leon,mostpeople at thecamp had at one timeor anotherlookedto social servicesto help themto,forexample,

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

103

findhousingorreceivedisability
butbecamediscourbenefits,
werecutwithoutan explanationor
aged whentheirbenefits
with
the
of
disgusted
array case managersassignedto them,
someworkingat odds withone anotherand othersoverlaps antipathy
tosocialworkers'requestsforpersonal
ping.Bruce7
information
orattempts
to "change"homelesspeoplethatacforassistanceprobablyechoesthecomcompanymostoffers
in suchcamps.
of
who
live
plaints many
hertrailer,
Nancyis intheprocessof"winterizing"
adding
anotherlayerto theoutsidewalls ofscrapwood, metal,and
corkboard,and fillingin cracksand holes fromthe inside.
Complainingthatshe has been cold duringtheincreasingly
butshortsto wear,
cool eveningsbecauseshe lacksanything
she asks Leon forblanketsand jeans.Whenwe returnto the
campanotherday,Leon bringssweatshirtsand blanketsfor
onlyNancyand herboyfriend,
believingthattherestof the
would refusethem.
campresidents
ResidentResistanceto StaffControl
Notallhomelesspeopleturntocampssuchas theoneBruce
and Nancylivein,thoughmanyexpresssimilarbeliefsabout
orsuspiciousattitudesofsocialserviceworkthepatronizing
ers. Many also complainabout social workerinvasiveness,
"emotionaldistance"(Ferrill
which,along withmaintaining
1991:124),has beeninstitutionalized
as partofa professional
standardwhichis claimedtobe necessaryifhomelessorlowincomepeople are to be "helped" (Funiciello1993:182). To
find"resistance"
amonghomelesspeople to thedisciplineof
theshelter
and tonarratives
ofhomelessness
whichpaintthem
as undeserving,
one mustrecognizeactionsotherthanorganizeddemonstrations,
coordinated
manyofwhichareinitially
or
non-homeless
advocates
service
by
providers.Organized
create
a
short-lived
butitis
ofattention,
uprisingsmay
flurry

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104

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VOL. 25(1), 1996

the"everydayformsof... resistance"
(Scott1985:29) thatbest
in creatingcultural
represent
people's ongoingparticipation
their
lived
therelationthat
most
affect
experiences,
meaning,
shipstheydevelop,and solutionsto theirsituationsthatthey
devise.7
of"the
tonarratives
AtthesheltersinWestCity,resistance
homeless"as "dysfunctional,"
lazy,or mentallyill oftensurin
demands
tobe treatedas humanbeshelter
residents'
face
historiesand issues,or as individualsfor
ingswithparticular
ratherthanas a mass
whoma certainrulemaybe detrimental,
of "thehomeless,"all of whomhave similarreasonsforbecominghomelessand needtofollowtherulesinordertolearn
of "dependent
"discipline."8Othersresisttheconstructions
the
homeless
can
be
which
that
only "helped"by
argue
poor,"
social serviceagencies,by self-consciously
takingfromshelters(whenavailable)thekindofhelptheyfeeltheyneedwhile
in thestorythattheshelteris "helping
to participate
refusing
themto fitback intothemainstream."
Althoughtheyoften
themselves
from
other
to
peoplelivinginthe
attempt separate
thelabel "homeless"and byclaimingthat
shelterbyrefusing
valuesthanotherhomelesspeople,atthesame
theyhavebetter
utilizemyriadcreative
timethoselivingintheshelters
attempts
andtoevadethestaff's
of"undeserving"
toresistconstructions
inconstructTheirparticipation
personalmicro-management.
is temperedbythe
ingotherhomelesspeopleas undeserving
as well as theirexpectademandstheyplace on theshelter,
and not
tionsthattheybe treatedwithdignityand humanity
simplyas a "case."
haverefused
ofPeopleinTransition
Forinstance,
residents
tocarryoutthecharadethatthecasemanageras "professional"
is helpingthem,onceitwas perceivedthathe did nottakean
intheirlives,orworkon theirbehalfwithother
activeinterest
agencies.Residentshold an ongoingcontestto see who can
for
spendtheleastamountoftimeinthecase manager'soffice
theirweeklyappointments(supposed to last an hour),the

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

105

recordbeingthreeminutes.These residentsmaybe read as


ofhomelessnesswhichsuggeststhatitis
a narrative
refusing
who needs
socialworker,
with
the
of
help a professional
only
to "change"thehomeless,thatsuchpeople willbecomeperhomed.
manently
as
Just shelterresidentsrarelytaketheircomplaintsand
to staffforfearofeviction,thispracticeleft
demandsdirectly
residents(whohad veryfewresourcesto
PeopleinTransition
when
tenuousposition.
Specifically,
beginwith)inan extremely
AmericanresidentoftheshelSharon,a mentallyill Africanthe
case
to
switch
from
decided
ter,
managerwhodid notwork
behalfto another,her onlychoicewas a staff
on residents7
sexualtalk"stressedherout."Sharon
memberwhoseconstant
continuesto meetwiththissecondcase manager,despitehis
sexualinnuendo,because she perceiveshimas morewilling
thantheothercase managerto help hersecurehousingand
Sexualharassment
otherbenefits.
mightbe morebearablethan
no helpat all; ifSharoncannotfindhousingand bereceiving
to
receive
disabilitypaymentsby theend ofherallotted
gin
herseverememorylapses and othermentimeat theshelter,
meanthatshewillbe livingonthestreet.
talproblems
probably
Whileinactivecase managerscan cause homelesspeople
thatitis
so toocan case managerattitudes
distress,
significant
reasons
rather
than
the
structural
theshelterresidentherself,
and corwhyshebecamehomeless,thatwarrantinvestigation
rection.Tracy,a FamilyShelterresident,protesteda perceptionofhomelesspeopleas not"equal" to others:
[People]don'tlookatus as thesameas them.Thecase
managersdon't even thinkof us as the same as them.
[Mark,thecase managerat theshelter]gotmad at me for
aboutJuliewhenshewas sick[witha gallbladworrying
He said I shouldjustworryaboutmyself,
derinfection].
becauseI haveenoughtodo. Weshouldn'thavetobe any
different
thanotherpeople ... it's humannature[tocare

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106

URBANANTHROPOLOGY

VOL. 25(1), 1996

abouta friend].I don'thave to careso muchthatI'd let


peoplestaywithme,butI careaboutfriends.

Also complaining
thatthechildcareworkers"lookdown on
her/7
Tracyasserts:"Ifwe had jobs,and thoseotherpeople
became homeless,we wouldn'tlook down on them'cause
we've beenthere,we knowwhatit'slike/7
She at oncedistinbetween
herself
and
the
child
care
workers,
guishes
makinga
claimto moralsuperiority
and to greaterlifeexperience,
and
at thesame timemaintainstheirequality,arguingthat"anythatit is plausiblethatsomeday
one can becomehomeless/7
she and thechildcareworkerscouldexchangeplaces.
feelsdisrespected
Marta,a forty-year-old
Latina,routinely
staff
members
at
the
by
FamilyShelter,statingthatthestaff
and thatthetwomain"gossipsaboutpeople'sprivatelives/7
tenanceworkershave "no compassion77
forthepeople at the
shelter,
actingas ifpeoplebecamehomelessbecausetheywere
like
Moreover,
lazyratherthanthattheyhad "runintocrises.77
Erinand Mareia,Martais disturbed
the
staff's
constant
surby
veillanceof shelterresidents.For example,residentsat the
FamilySheltermustrequestand sign forclothingfromthe
donationsroom,as wellas foreventhemostmundaneorpersonaloftoiletries
and hygieneitems.Martaexpressesuneasiness abouthavingto ask forpersonalitemsfromstaffmembers,fearingthatthestaffwillthinkshe is "usingtoo much77
oris "greedy.77
She goesso faras toborrowlaundrysoap from
herhusband,who does notliveat theshelterand fromwhom
she separateddue to his physicalabuse,so thatthestaffwill
notthinkshe has used toomuchofthesheltersoap.
Michelle,a Euro-Americanmotheroftwo,arguesthatthe
where
FamilyShelterprogramis superiorto theLighthouse,
she had stayedfiveyearsago,butnonetheless
objectsto certainFamilyShelterstaffpractices.In particular,
Michellelamentsthatstaff
does notapproacheachresidentin a moreindividualizedwayinorderattempt
toascertainthespecificrea-

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

107

sonseachpersonhasbecomehomelessrather
thestaff
assumes
each person'spovertycan be addressedthroughcounseling
and lifeskillsclasses.Michelle'scomments
extendtoa critique
ofpovertypolicygenerally:
TheonlythingI don'tlikeaboutthisprogramis that
I've seenthemthrowoutfivefamilies
withno placetogo.
Martahad bad creditso she couldn'tgetan apartment.
Now she's livingin hercar....They'reno betteroffthan
whentheycamein here.The thingis,she hasthemoney
fora placebutno onewouldrenttoher.Itwasn'tlikeshe
didn'ttry.I'd see heron thephoneall thetime.

ThoughtheFamilyShelterallowedMartato staylongerthan
herallocatedthreemonthswhenshe could notfindhousing,
and in so doingprovidedtheindividualizedtreatment
which
Michellearguesroutinely
shouldgovernstaff's
workwithclishe
was
asked
to
leave
without
ents,
eventually
havingsecured
Michelledoes notbelievethatshe is
an apartment.
Similarly,
classesat theshelter:"It gripes
learningfromthemandatory
me thatI haveto go to parenting
classessinceI've beentwice
already.And in LifeSkillsclass,we weregivenan exerciseto
budgetfora manwho made $60,000a year.Ifanyofus made
thatmuch,we wouldn'tbe here.I toldtheladythat,thatshe
shouldgive us an exerciseto budgetwith$1,000a month/'
Michelle'scomments
makeclearherunderstanding
thatmost
women'shomelessness
cannotbe attributed
tobudgeting
problemsand fixedwitha classon suchskills.Itis difficult
tosupporta familyofthreeon $1,000a month,and learninghow to
divideup $60,000a year,to add and subtractfiguresin columns of expensesand equity,will not help a woman like
Michelle.
Americanmotherof two who became
Gloria,an Africanhomelessaftershe and herhusbanddivorced,likeMichelle
has analyzedwhywomenbecomehomelessand howshelters
and agenciescouldbetterservethem.Sheuses oneexampleto

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108

URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY

VOL. 25(1), 1996

of
can workto thedetriment
explainhow shelterregulations
residents:
At [theMinistry
anotherWestCityhomeless
shelter,
and kidsgo to school
shelter],
theydon'tservebreakfast,
Andyou'renotsupposedtohavefood
withoutbreakfast.
in yourroom,and it forcespeople to be dishonest.So if
that'sthelittlelieyou'retelling[thatyoudon'thavebreakfastfoodin yourroomwhenyouactuallydo],thenwhat
otherlie will you telljustto stayin theprogram?I was
luckyenoughto have a carand I kepta coolerin itwith
ice.I'd take[thekids]to schooland we'd sitat thepicnic
tableand havecerealwithmilk.
had topay$225a monthtostayat [the
Also,everyone
That's
a lotofpeopledon'trealize.
Ministry].
something

Arguablyifthestafflistenedto Gloria'scritique,theshelter
would be morehumaneand able to diminishsome stressin
theresidents'lives.However,as Dee Dee's experienceindicates,mosthomelesspeople'sideas arenotwelcomeand can
resultin evictionfromtheshelter.
Dee Dee, a Euro-Americanresidentof the Lighthouse,
claimsthatstaffat theMinistry
asked herto leave aftershe
wrotea letterofcomplaintaboutan employeewho "used to
whisperinthewomen'searswhocouldn'tspeakEnglish,saying theyneed to go back to theirown countries."Afterthe
evictedher,theLighthouseacceptedDee Dee and
Ministry
her daughter:"This is like a countryclub comparedto the
Ministry... theyhave 400 people [at the Ministry]and not
enough staff.The kids ran around like animals,and were
treatedlikeanimals."Contrary
to someoftheotherwomen's
about
the
invasiveness
ofLighthousepolicies,Dee
complaints
Dee assertsthat"knowingeveryone'sbusiness,"as wellas the
structured
natureoftheprogram,
arebothaspectsthatmake
itstrong:

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

109

The organizational
structure
and expertiseoftheLighthouseis what
makesthemsuccessful.
Therecidivism
rateoftheirclients- peoplewho
and thinkthey're
reallydon'twanthelpbutdon'twanttobe on thestreets
to
slide
is
not
related
to
the
of
the
This
by
going
delivery
program....
works
because
knows
business....
who
program
everyone
everyone's
People
comehereareincrisisand hearingthatotherpeople'sstoriesaresimilaris
healing.

Dee Dee does notpointout,however,thatas at mostshelters,


homelessresidentsmustrevealdetailsabout theirpersonal
workhistories,
and familiesin orderto be acrelationships,
and theirpersonalinformation
is exceptedintotheprogram,
with
otherstaff,
while the case managersstriveto
changed
maintainprofessional
distanceby notsharingtheirown perwithresidents.
sonalhistories
a resident
as Tammy,
Moreover,
of a domesticviolenceshelter,
staff
members
who
suggests,
toprovidecounselingtoresidents
whilealso controlattempt
lingtheiraccessto shelterask homelesspeopleto divulgeinthatpotentially
formation
could place at risktheircontinued
ifan outresidenceat theshelter:"I'd feelmorecomfortable
I
side personoffered
That
can
counseling.
way
say anything
and m notafraid11piss staffoff.Thereare some thingsI
can'tsayto staff/7
Althoughsheis happierat theLighthousethanshewas at
theMinistry,
Dee Dee stillcalls it a "circuson all ends/'actheprogramand casemanagerdecisions.And
tivelycritiquing
the
evictedherforassertingherbeliefthata
though Ministry
staff
membershouldchangehisbehavior,
sheremainsoutspo"I was toldtoputmy17-year-old
kenattheLighthouse:
daughteron thecitybus [togo toschool]on [a verydangerousstreet
infront
I had tocallsome
oftheshelter]at5:30inthemorning.
ofthecase managerson theiradviceto me. I thinkI can give
themsomeunbiasedadvice."Byassertingthatshe has a perspectivefromwhichLighthousecase managerscanlearn,and
in particular
thathersareunbiasedcriticisms,
Dee Dee places
herselfin thesame league withthestaff,
their
undercutting

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URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY

110

VOL. 25(1), 1996

claimsto "expert"status.Case managersas licensedsocial


workersstriveto remain"unbiased";the positionof social
reliesupon theabilityto remainfairly
workeras professional
detachedfrompeople'sliveswhileoffering
specializedadvocacyand "objective"advice.Dee Dee, then,takesTracy'sbeliefthatshe is "thesame" as thecase managers(in thesense
She argues
thattheyare all humanbeings),one stepfurther.
thatsheis as capableofteachingthemas theyareofimparting
knowledgeand adviceto her.
Conclusion
and driving,
As Gusfieldhas arguedin termsofdrinking
ofhomelessnessas a "publicproblem"is intheconstruction
relatedto attemptsto solve it (Gusfield1981:5-8;
trinsically
Nathanson1991:11).Homelessnessbecamea problemwitha
aboutwhichsomeoneoughtto
"publicstatus,"or"something
do something"(Gusfield:5) in theearly1980s,as academics,
toprecariand activists
paid attention
increasingly
politicians,
ously housed populations,slowly changingthe notionof
"bums"and "vagrants"to the"homeless."However,despite
current
popularconcernforand charitableimpulsestoward
thehomelessnotdirectedtoward"skidrow"populationsearofthealcoholic"bum"and
lierin thecentury,
representations
have notbeen excisedfroma narrative
disaffected
"vagrant"
ofhomelessness.
Indeed,althoughthegrowingnumberofhomelessfamiliesis oftencitedas evidenceofthewaysinwhichhomelessness
offamily
examination
dislocation,
mayresultfromstructural
indicates
transitional
shelters
andlong-term
housingprograms
a mentobe definedas essentially
continues
thathomelessness
tal healthand individualproblem.Social workershave been
thehomelessthrough
for"fixing"
responsibility
givenprimary
Fromtheperand controlof"deviantlifestyles."
surveillance

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Williams:GEOGRAPHY OF THE HOMELESS SHELTER

111

designatedfor"fixing"the
spectiveof shelteras institution
toanalyzethearchitechomeless,then,itbecomesimperative
shelters.
The specificcontext
of
various
tureand regulations
establisha parand helpstofurther
oftheshelterbothreflects
of why people becomehomelessand
ticularunderstanding
Shelterstaff
shouldbe crafted.
howresponsestohomelessness
sometimespatronizeand oftensuspecthomelessresidentsof
offer
realassistancein
todeceivethem;othertimesstaff
trying
a searchforlow-incomehousingormorestableemployment.
ofhomelesspeople in theshelRegardlessoftheirtreatment
staff
ters,however,
commonlyunderstandthe residentsas
"cases" to which an "expert" responds by using
methods(suchas demandingpersonalinforprofessionalized
a
mation,writing case plan,and mandatinglifeskillsclasses)
in orderto correct
and controlthehomelessperson.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I wish to thankMatthewCrensonand SuzetteHembergerfortheir


ongoingsupportand critiqueoftheresearchprojectfromwhichthisarticlecomes,and LauryOaks and Cass Russettforprovidingthoughtful
on thisessay.
comments
NOTES
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

have been
All names and identifying
backgroundinformation
oftheparticipants.
theanonymity
changedin ordertoprotect
thislineofinquiry.
I thankLauryOaks forsuggesting
otcritiquThisquotebyEleanorLeacockwas madeinthecontext
1967:
thesis.Leacock
3-4,quotedinKatz
ingthecultureofpoverty
1989:39.
to seekhousing
Somewomenstatedthattheyhad beenreluctant
shelter
resifrom
other
for
fear
of
violence
inan emergency
shelter
dents.
withmentallyill homelesswomenattestto
Ferrill'sexperiences
in workingwiththemas
staff
thedifficulties
that
mayencounter
on rulesto remain
to
staff's
reliance
and
shelterresidents, points

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

112

6.

7.

8.

URBANANTHROPOLOGY

VOL. 25(1),1996

ill women(Ferrill1991,
in theirtreatment
ofmentally
consistent
esp. 97). However,WestCityfamilysheltersgenerallyavoid acillwomenormen.
ceptingseriouslymentally
In interviews
withstaff
and residents
ofwomen'shomelessshelbetweenstaffand clients
ters,Liebow(1993)foundthatconflicts
weredefinedby thepowerlessnessof clientson one hand,and
orfearofviolencefromthewomenon the
staff's
authoritarianism
socialworkers,
believedthatas professional
other.Somestaff
they
neededto "change"thewomen.
studiesoftenlack a serious
SherryOrtnerarguesthatresistance
of thepoliticsand cultureof "dominatedgroups."
examination
Thisarticleis partofa largerprojecton thecultureofhomeless
s contenpeoplein sheltersthatexploresin greaterdetailOrtner'
resistance
atleast
and
tionthat"culture
informs,
shapes
underpins
fromit"(1995:181).
as muchas itemergessituationally
workersinan industrialInAihwaOng's studyofwomenfactory
articulation
she
found
little
"coherent
rural
town,
Malaysian
izing
inclassorevenfeminist
terms."Rather,
thewomen
ofexploitation
individualizedways againstwhatthey
resistedin fragmented,
their"moral
thatthreatened
perceivedtobe inhumanetreatment
status"(1987:196).
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