There's No Place like Home: Anthropological Perspectives on Housing and Homelessness in the United States

By Anna Lou Dehavenon | Go to book overview

4
Doubling-Up and New York City's
Policies for Sheltering Homeless
Families

Anna Lou Dehavenon

Homeless families, like other families in the United States, need stable living space in which to socialize and enculturate children, store food, cook and eat, care for clothing, receive mail, use the telephone, and engage in adult sexual intercourse in accordance with the mainstream culture's rules of privacy. The author documents the search for the stable housing homeless families in New York City need to keep together, attend school, and work. However, the city government assumes that the housing standard for very-low-income families should be lower than for other families and that poor families should opt for living doubled-up, no matter how crowded, rather than using the public shelter system. Dehavenon recommends increasing rent subsidies for low-income families, the construction of more subsidized low-income housing, and the U.S. government's support of the United Nations' effort to recognize housing as a universal basic human right.


INTRODUCTION

Homelessness has many faces, some more visible than others: the single adults who stay in public places and the adults and families who stay in public shelters. These two groups make up most of the official homeless count. A third group, those who stay doubled-up in other people's living space because they cannot afford their own, is much less visible. The individuals and families in all three groups have one thing in common: the lack of shelter over which they have stable, legal control. This is the salient feature of the operational definition of homelessness used in the research on which this chapter is based. Furthermore, a "double- up" is defined as a living arrangement in which two or more families share the same space, for which the host family pays the rent to the landlord and the guest family does not.

As a strategy for obtaining shelter, doubling-up enables those who employ it to avoid the degradation of public shelters and being included in the government's

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