Homeless

Homeless: Poverty and Place in Urban America

ELLA HOWARD
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fj31b
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Homeless
    Book Description:

    The homeless have the legal right to exist in modern American cities, yet antihomeless ordinances deny them access to many public spaces. How did previous generations of urban dwellers deal with the tensions between the rights of the homeless and those of other city residents? Ella Howard answers this question by tracing the history of skid rows from their rise in the late nineteenth century to their eradication in the mid-twentieth century. Focusing on New York's infamous Bowery, Homeless analyzes the efforts of politicians, charity administrators, social workers, urban planners, and social scientists as they grappled with the problem of homelessness. The development of the Bowery from a respectable entertainment district to the nation's most infamous skid row offers a lens through which to understand national trends of homelessness and the complex relationship between poverty and place. Maintained by cities across the country as a type of informal urban welfare, skid rows anchored the homeless to a specific neighborhood, offering inhabitants places to eat, drink, sleep, and find work while keeping them comfortably removed from the urban middle classes. This separation of the homeless from the core of city life fostered simplistic and often inaccurate understandings of their plight. Most efforts to assist them centered on reforming their behavior rather than addressing structural economic concerns. By midcentury, as city centers became more valuable, urban renewal projects and waves of gentrification destroyed skid rows and with them the public housing and social services they offered. With nowhere to go, the poor scattered across the urban landscape into public spaces, only to confront laws that effectively criminalized behavior associated with abject poverty. Richly detailed, Homeless lends insight into the meaning of homelessness and poverty in twentieth-century America and offers us a new perspective on the modern welfare system.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0826-9
    Subjects: History
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-21)

    In 1961, New York City Mayor Robert Wagner announced a major renewal initiative for the city’s infamous skid row. Based on research conducted by social scientists, Operation Bowery would develop and implement policies designed to end urban homelessness. Explaining the plan, Wagner asserted, “We will be rebuilding men and making possible the rebuilding of a blight area at the same time.” Wagner’s comment revealed the rhetorical fusion of the city’s “broken” men and the street where they lived. In a period of optimism and faith in governmental research and programs, officials were confident in their abilities to survey, analyze, and...

  4. CHAPTER 1 THE CHALLENGE OF THE DEPRESSION (pp. 22-59)

    During the 1920s, Urbain Ledoux opened “the Tub” on St. Mark’s Place on the Lower East Side. Known as “Mr. Zero,” the businessman turned philanthropist offered meals and lodging to New York’s homeless men. A Buddhist, Ledoux felt called to work among the poor. He had begun his efforts in New England, selling the unemployed at “slave auctions” on Boston Common. By March 1928, Ledoux reported lodging over 1,140 men nightly in steamer chairs while feeding 2,000 from a five-cent basement soup kitchen and a ground floor cafeteria. Espousing his own brand of radical politics, Ledoux proposed outlandish schemes such...

  5. CHAPTER 2 A NEW DEAL FOR THE HOMELESS (pp. 60-87)

    In an April 1932 campaign speech, Democratic presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his commitment to projects “that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Roosevelt called for reform of agricultural and tariff policy and of mortgage lending practices in an effort to stabilize the American economy. Once in office, the Roosevelt administration delivered on these promises, enacting a wave of policies and programs designed to ease the suffering of the poor while regulating the economic and political realms....

  6. CHAPTER 3 SKID ROW IN AN ERA OF PLENTY (pp. 88-115)

    During the early 1950s, author and activist Michael Harrington lived near the Bowery as a member of the Catholic Worker, the group founded by Dorothy Day to help the area’s poor. Harrington characterized skid row and its residents as “the bitterest, most physical and obvious poverty that can be seen in an American city.” He described Bowery residents as suffering from disease, exposure, and neglect. They spent day after listless day walking, resting, procuring food, and making conversation, expressing few goals and little hope. He marveled at the lack of compassion felt by other city residents at the plight of...

  7. CHAPTER 4 URBAN RENEWAL AND THE CHALLENGE OF HOMELESSNESS (pp. 116-137)

    By the late 1950s, America’s skid rows were sparsely populated slum districts. Surveying the Bowery, the New York City Planning Commission observed “a mixture of old tenements, commercial and industrial structures and cheap hotels . . . in poor, run-down condition, with narrow, dark halls.” Amid these dilapidated buildings were small clusters of homeless men. In the late 1940s, approximately 1,800 men had stayed in commercial lodging houses; a decade later barely 500 remained. Eying skid rows as valuable, underutilized real estate, enterprising urban planners launched ambitious redevelopment projects fueled by federal spending.¹

    Razing skid rows seemed at first a...

  8. CHAPTER 5 OPERATION BOWERY AND SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY (pp. 138-178)

    The interviewer seated in the lobby of the Bowery’s Uncle Sam Hotel with a homeless man who was lodging there, proceeded to ask a series of questions. “Subject six,” he learned, had been born in Elmer, New Jersey, in 1898 to a glassblower and a stay-at-home mother. His family included a stepbrother and a sister. When he was six, the family moved to Virginia, then to New Jersey, then back to Virginia when he was thirteen. He left school at fourteen to go to work, having achieved a third-grade education. At that time, he held no ambitions or plan for...

  9. CHAPTER 6 THE END OF THE SKID-ROW ERA (pp. 179-209)

    In his memoir of New York City homelessness, Lee Stringer described with biting irony the surprise of a professional coming across a cluster of homeless people sleeping in Grand Central Station. Summarizing the divide between even the era’s iconic cocaine-snorting yuppie population and its crack-smoking homeless one, he observed, “I remember thinking, this guy’s obviously no New Yorker. After four years’ exposure to ‘the homeless,’ sights like this had ceased to startle the rank and file of Gotham. Like Ellison’s Invisible Man, we had receded into that part of the landscape that refused to support the American Dream. And which...

  10. CONCLUSION: WHITHER THE HOMELESS (pp. 210-222)

    In 1956, as the Hart Island rehabilitation facility was being closed, New York City Chief Magistrate John Murtagh, in front of whom vagrants appeared for sentencing, warned of the city’s future. The modernizing Bowery, he cautioned, would no longer accommodate the homeless: “It is only because the Bowery is so large and so replete in lodging houses that the homeless have been relatively contained up to this time.” He encouraged city officials to launch a new residential program for the homeless immediately, lest they infiltrate other neighborhoods and “knock Times Square silly.” In the coming decades, as the skid-row district...

  11. NOTES (pp. 223-268)
  12. INDEX (pp. 269-274)
  13. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. 275-282)

Access

You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.

login

Log in to your personal account or through your institution.