Homeless in NYC

Homeless in NYC_tif_0480
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4 Essays

  1. Norman Bradburn | National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago says:

    “An absence of positive satisfactions in life, rather than an increase in negative forces, is the main consequence of a depressive economic climate. It is the lack of joy in Mudville rather than the presence of sorrow that makes the difference.”

    Reports on Happiness, N.M. Bradburn and D. Caplovitz, Chicago: Aldine, 1965.

  2. Patricia Pugliani | Stony Brook University says:

    This homeless man in New York City pushes his possessions in a wagon that he topped with two American flags, symbols of the country that failed him. He appears to have on clean clothes and, indeed, his belongings include a bottle of laundry detergent. He may be homeless, but he does not give us impression of hopelessness.

  3. J. Jeff McConnell | University of California at San Francisco says:

    The public work relief programs that the depression spawned were said by some to have given men who were broke and broken new hope. Indeed, they caused a revival of hobo working culture that had developed from economic depressions at the end of the 19th century.

    While working on urban construction or when on hiatus between rurally-based projects the legions of this mobile and unattached workforce took up residence in the city center neighborhoods known as the Main Stem. Along with readily available single room occupancy hotels and employment agencies the Stem had its bawdy-houses, saloons, gambling enterprises, theaters, and all the sorts of things that enlivened the existence of the single working man.

    Among the unintended consequences of supporting the hobo working force, however, were that men were wrested from normative life-course development and embodied a de facto counterculture. Post WWII economic and social policy sought to eradicate the economic basis of hobemia so that the American Main Stems fell into disrepair, revealing a morally suspect and now literally bankrupt counterculture. Hobos who remained on became known as bums, and the once vital economic center of the mobile workforce became skid row.

    In the 1960’s the Social Science Encyclopedia defined homeless specifically as dis-integration with the main normative (marriage and family) and the economic and political (work and civil society) institutions of society. Bums had lost all grasp on a legitimate position in civil society and were characterized as politically and morally impotent, homeless. They had not, by and large, lost their housing such as it was.

    Scholars have tended to agree that contemporary American homelessness emerged between 1978 and 1982, the latter date defined by the success of activists in naming the new legions as homeless rather than tramps, hobos, bums, or bag ladies. The auspicious label, even if it was a political success, did nothing to tell us who these men, women, and children were, nor from where they came from. A vast literature attempted to assign all manner of personal pathology to the victims of this massive social and economic development. A few analysts noticed a deep economic recession followed by an apparent recovery that did not touch the poorest ten percent of the population, the gentrification of skid row including demolishment of the nation’s stock of SRO, and intra- and inter-national job migration that left a new generation of the workforce suddenly without hope of employment.

    When we studied them closely we found the homeless to be anything but dis-integrated. In fact, we found that they survived on little else than deep embededness in survival networks, and that these were often far more elaborate than the networks they could have called upon when they still did have housing. Could this be a nouveau -hobemia? What could be the long-term effects of engendering a counterculture consisting of citizens for whom we do not even provide housing?

    Do not take this man’s gaze lightly, for he may know better than you of a deep and brewing economic contradiction that may yet set sunder the foundations of the world’s greatest economic force.

  4. Carolyn Ellis | University of South Florida says:

    What does it mean to be a patriotic homeless person? The two flags are such a prominent part of this man's meager belongings. They are located in the front of the cart, placed higher than anything else he owns. Perhaps he even has a flag on his shirt. It is hard to tell. But what seems clear is that this man is proud to be an American.
    Now I wonder, how does this photo make us, the viewers, feel? Does his pride shame us for our lack of patriotism? Does it make us want to do more for this man, to perhaps provide for him more tangible reasons for his pride? Or does it make us feel wonderment or skepticism that a person with so little could be so proud to live in this country?
    Raising these questions now makes me question what the flag means to this man. Is it saying, "Don’t screw with me" much like the Bush administration conveys to other countries? Is it a message to the terrorists? Does it signify that "Though homeless, I am one of you, I belong here"? Does it engender conversation from others? Or scare them away? Is he protecting against possibly harmful outside forces or trying to fit in with those around him?
    Perhaps the flags are just colorful decorations he rescued from the trash.