A moving and illuminating study of women living in homeless shelters.
Anthropologist Liebow (Catholic University of America) is the author of Talley's Corner (1967), a study of black street-corner life that's still read by college students. Here, he uses the same participant-observer technique he used before, acting as a volunteer in shelters around Washington, D.C., and as a recorder of homeless women's lives and feelings. In most cases, he tells us, women are turned out of shelters at 7:00 a.m. and are not allowed to return until 12 hours later. Some roam the streets all day, killing time. Some have only an hour or so before they're due at jobs that usually pay them too little to live on, let alone save for housing. Others spend their days traveling from one social- service agency to another in search of housing subsidies, food stamps, job leads, or training opportunities. Some homeless women are bright and educated, others are mildly handicapped, physically or mentally, but able to function in society. Still others are mentally and emotionally disturbed but--or so Liebow believes--no more so than most people would be living under the same stresses. The women are able to deal best with their disorganized and difficult lives in shelters that provide beds, food, laundry, and bathing facilities, as well as a nonjudgmental atmosphere. Each woman Liebow questions has a different story to tell about why she's homeless--many have been laid off from jobs and lost their apartments or homes, some had husbands who deserted them or kicked them out. Particularly eye-opening is a chapter on the fear that plagues not only the women who are served by the shelters but the women who serve them.
A thoughtful and informative inside-look at homelessness, supporting Liebow's conclusion that "homeless people are homeless because they do not have a place to live.''