Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco


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Coming soon. In Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders, Teresa Gowan vividly depicts the lives of homeless men in San Francisco and analyzes the influence of the homelessness industry on the streets, in the shelters, and on public policy.

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This powerful ethnography makes clear that the way we talk about issues of extreme poverty has real consequences for how we address this problem—and for the homeless themselves. When homelessness reemerged in American cities during the s at levels not seen since the Great Depression, it initially provoked shock and outrage. Within a few years, however, what had been perceived as a national crisis came to be seen as a nuisance, with early sympathies for the plight of the homeless giving way to compassion fatigue and then condemnation.


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Debates around the problem of homelessness—often set in terms of sin, sickness, and the failure of the social system—have come to profoundly shape how homeless people survive and make sense of their plights. Gowan shows some of the diverse ways that men on the street in San Francisco struggle for survival, autonomy, and self-respect.

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Spending time among homeless men—working side-by-side with them as they collected cans, bottles, and scrap metal; helping them set up camp; watching and listening as they panhandled and hawked newspapers; and accompanying them into soup kitchens, jails, welfare offices, and shelters—Gowan immersed herself in their routines, their personal stories, and their perspectives on life on the streets. She observes a wide range of survival techniques, from the illicit to the industrious, from drug dealing to dumpster diving. She also discovered that prevailing discussions about homelessness and its causes—homelessness as pathology, homelessness as moral failure, and homelessness as systemic failure—powerfully affect how homeless people see themselves and their ability to change their situation.

Drawing on five years of fieldwork, this powerful ethnography of men living on the streets of the most liberal city in America, Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders, makes clear that the way we talk about issues of extreme poverty has real consequences for how we address this problem—and for the homeless themselves. The big surprise is not the hostility of the police or the shortage of services, but the determination of so many of these men to build a career out of recycling trash. This elegantly written and clearly analyzed long-term ethnography of homelessness takes off where Righteous Dopefiend ends.

Like the best nonfiction, Hobos transcends the limits of fact to become a great story. Gowan weaves the lives and dialogue of her companions with analysis and history. It is a powerful wake-up call to a nation that has largely abandoned its historic commitment to provide affordable housing for all Americans.

This engaging, relevant, and beautifully written book offers what other ethnographies have also revealed: the human face of poverty and its complex roots. It is a sad commentary on our times that such a book is still needed. An interesting and compassionate description of how three different groups of homeless people in San Francisco think about their own lives.

Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco - Minnesota Scholarship

This work is truly a multilayered, multilevel, multiperspective presentation of information that makes connections between national, regional, city, and neighborhood dynamics, a significant contribution unto itself. Teresa Gowan confronts readers with an intimate ethnography of diverse individuals struggling with systemic failure This insightful work. Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders is a welcome addition to both ethnographies of inequality and discourse analyses of American homelessness for its depth of engagement with homeless informants and for its thoughtful representation of the voices and lives of homeless individuals.

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Hobos Hustlers And Backsliders Homeless In San Francisco Teresa Gowan

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San Francisco Homeless Man Shares About Jail and Homelessness.

Overview hen homelessness reemerged in American cities during the s at levels not seen since the Great Depression, it initially provoked shock and outrage. Average Review. Write a Review.

Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco
Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco
Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco
Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco
Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco
Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco

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