Homeless Shelters: A Feeble Response to Homelessness

by Betty Reid Mandell

* It is important for people who hold high positions to talk about having received welfare, as it helps to reduce the stigma of welfare. The recently elected governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, said that his family received welfare when he was a child.

** The Family Cap policy states that a child born while a mother is on TAFDC is ineligible for cash benefits. This results in the family grant being reduced by $90 a month. The federal government does not mandate states to enforce it, but encourages them to do so.

† Although Michael Lipsky uses the term "social workers," the people who work in welfare offices are generally not professional social workers and are not accepted by the social work profession as such. (It probably wouldn't make much difference if they were professional social workers, as they would still be forced to take the same repressive measures, although perhaps with more finesse.) Workers now are not expected to provide services, but only to investigate and administer financial assistance. Prior to 1974 workers provided both services and investigation, but those functions were separated in that year because welfare rights activists saw the services as attempts to "reform" them with the goal of getting them off welfare, and demanded that services be separated from eligibility investigation. They did not want reform; they wanted cash. This separation of services from investigation actually resulted in officials cutting out the few services that were previously offered -- yet another example of the unintended consequences of reform.

†† The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States voted to support when it was ratified by the United Nations in 1948, states that "everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control." (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 217A (III), www.un.org/Overview/rights.)

‡ WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) is a federal food program for young children and their mothers, and for pregnant women.


  1. Talmadge Wright, Out of Place. New York: State University of New York Press, 1997. Wright has an excellent discussion of how cities have helped corporations and real estate interests squeeze out the poor.
  2. Joint Center for housing Studies of Harvard University, "The State of the Nation's Housing 2006,"Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, June 13, 2006, p. 28.
  3. Western Regional Advocacy Project, Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness, and Policy Failures. San Francisco, CA, 2006, p. i.
  4. Ibid., p. iii.
  5. Ibid., p. 3.
  6. Ibid., p. 24.
  7. Moderator@Portside.org, "Bush Declares War on Homeless, Low-Income Tenants," portside@lists.Portside.org, February 8, 2007.
  8. Three excellent studies of encampments built by the homeless themselves are: Wright, op. cit.; David Wagner, Checkerboard Square. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993; Gwendolyn A. Dordick, Something Left to Lose. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.
  9. Down and Out, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Boston, MA, 2005, pp. 195-204.
  10. Jean Calterone Williams, "A Roof Over My Head," Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2003.
  11. Down and Out, op. cit.
  12. Family Guide, St. Ambrose Family Inn, 25 Leonard St., Dorchester, MA 02122, April 2005.
  13. U.S. Conference of Mayors, Hunger and Homelessness 2004. Washington, DC, December 2004.
  14. Williams, op. cit., p. 90.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Williams, op. cit., p. 88.
  17. Joel Blau, The Visible Poor: Homelessness in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 159.
  18. Ibid., pp. 159-160.
  19. Vincent Lyon-Callo, "Constraining Responses to homelessness: An Ethnographic Exploration of the Impact of Funding Concerns on Resistance," Human Organization, Vo. 57, No. 1, 1998, pp. 1-7.
  20. Street Level Bureaucracy. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1980.
  21. Ibid., p. 119.
  22. Ibid., p. 71.
  23. Ibid., p. 141.
  24. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish - the Birth of the Prison. New York: Random House, 1977. p. 304.
  25. National Alliance to End Homelessness, "Homelessness Counts," Washington, DC, 2005.
  26. Ibid., pp. 10-12.
  27. U.S. Department of Education, Helping Homeless Families: Housing and Homeless Assistance, 2006.
  28. U. S. Conference of Mayors, op. cit.
  29. Kathleen McCourt and Gwendolyn Nyden, Promises Made, Promises Broken . . . the Crisis and Challenge: Homeless Families in Chicago. Chicago Institute on Urban Poverty and Travelers & Immigrants Aid, 1990. This Chicago study of 258 women who entered the shelter system showed that 46 percent had left their housing because of abuse and 24 percent had left because of harassment by an ex-partner.
  30. For a study of the criminalization of homelessness in U.S. Cities, see U.S. Nation al Coalition for the Homeless Report -- A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities.. Posted by Chiara Saez Baeze, January 15, 2006.
  31. Western Regional Advocacy Project, op. cit., p. 8.
  32. Cornelius Castoriades, The Imaginary Institution of Society." Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987.
  33. Williams, op. cit., studied both family shelters and battered women's shelters and gives an interesting comparison of the two.
  34. Personal communication.
  35. Western Regional Advocacy Project, op. cit., p. 17.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Housing and Urban Development, "Hope VI: Community Building Makes a Difference," p. 1. Accessed 1/17/07.
  38. Ibid., p. 2.
  39. National Housing Law Project et al. False HOPE: A Critical Assessment of the Hope VI Public Housing Redevelopment Program. Supra note 54, 2002.
  40. Western Regional Advocacy Project, op. cit., p. ii.
  41. Williams, op. cit., pp. 91-92.
  42. US - National Coalition for Homeless Report - A Dream denied: The criminalization of homelessness in U.S. Cities, op. cit.
  43. National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, "Homelessness and United States Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," Washington, DC, May 31, 2006.
  44. Wikipedia, "Tompkins Square Park," Accessed 1/21/07.
  45. Jonathan Martin, The Seattle Times, November 2, 2005, Accessed at Lexis-Nexis January 2, 2007.
  46. Lyon-Callo, op. cit.
  47. Wagner, op. cit.
  48. Ibid., p. 18.
  49. Ibid., p. 19.
  50. Talmadge Wright, op. cit., p. 249.
  51. Ibid., p. 300,
  52. Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Poor People's Movements: Why they succeed, how they fail. New York: Random House, 1979.
  53. Ibid., p. 58.
  54. Jean Racine, Brittanicus; Phaedra; Athaliah, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  55. Ibid., pp 358-359.
  56. Kerstin Gehmlich, "France endorses housing as a legal right," Boston Globe, January 4, 2007, p. A14.
  57. Moderator@portside.org, "New Orleans Public Housing Residents Issue Urgent Call for Electrical Support," portside@lists.portside.org, February 14, 2007.