Homes of the homeless in Washington, D.C.
James Deutsch (Smithsonian Institution)
Paper short abstract:
Based on interviews with homeless men living in Washington DC, this paper explores the reasons why such individuals deliberately eschew emergency shelters and how they have learned to craft temporary shelters, organize their belongings, and above all to create a sense of home even while homeless.
Paper long abstract:
In January 2016, the annual survey of homelessness in Washington D.C. identified 318 persons who were living outdoors and unsheltered: in parks, under bridges, on sidewalks, in doorways, and other places defined as an irregular or inadequate nighttime residence. In addition, the 2016 survey found 6,259 persons living in emergency shelters and another 1,773 persons living in transitional housing. Most observers admit that the survey seriously undercounts the actual number of homeless individuals. One reason is that many homeless men and women sleeping outdoors do not wish to be seen or counted. They have established their homes in out-of-the-way places, in part to avoid being attacked by thugs who prey on homeless people, and in part to avoid the efforts of social service agencies, no matter how well-meaning those agencies may be. Based on interviews with homeless men living in Washington, this paper explores some of the reasons why such individuals deliberately eschew the emergency shelters available at no cost to them, and how they have learned to craft temporary shelters out of a variety of materials, to organize their belongings, and above all to create a sense of home even while homeless. Most people who encounter homeless men and women in Washington neither understand nor appreciate the intelligence and resourcefulness that are needed for their daily struggle for survival on the streets. The processes and routines by which homeless people learn how to create and maintain their homes all are an inherent part of their traditional knowledge and culture.