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

By Anna Lou Dehavenon | Go to book overview

concerned about the trash around the Gardens Site and tried to clean it up himself and to get other residents to do so as well. The area has been used in the past as an illegal dump. Occasionally, other hut residents complained that Buddy was interfering in their lives a bit too much and asked that the volunteers intervene. However, the Mad Housers reminded them that each person owns his or her hut and no one has complete authority over the site, so they would have to work out their problems as a group. In July 1989, Buddy moved into an apartment with his girlfriend, and shortly thereafter his empty hut burned. Other residents of the Gardens said that Buddy had committed the arson to keep his girlfriend from moving back to the hut.


Case Study of Dana: Community Sanctioning

The following description of Dana illustrates important mechanisms of social sanctioning.

Dana, a woman in her thirties, had been chronically homeless. She lost her job and apartment after a mental breakdown, and she contacted the Mad Housers through the Auburn Cafe. She was given a hut in the Gardens Site in March 1989 and lived there for nine months. She had problems with certain members of that community because they found out that she had been stealing their clothes and burning them to stay warm. The Mad Housers had to deliver firewood to her and teach Dana how to build a campfire. Eventually she moved into a transitional program sponsored by the city and received Social Security and food stamps.

In April 1990, Dana again contacted the Mad Housers. She had quit the transitional program because of "too many rules and people telling me what to do." So a group of volunteers moved Dana's possessions out of the women's shelter. They entirely filled a pickup truck. Dana had boxes of books and files and said she was writing a book. Since she had quit the transitional program, she had been staying at the shelter and friends' apartments. Dana's new hut was located away from downtown, along a railroad. Because it was too close to the track, railroad employees demolished it after four months. Dana wanted to move anyway, saying the site was too isolated and she wanted to be "mayor" of her own site. In late September 1990, the Mad Housers built her a new hut closer to downtown, and placed a hut for her friend next to it. The friend's Social Security funds came through, and she moved to an apartment. Another person moved into the second hut. Police questioned him about an alleged offense, and the landowner was contacted. Mad Housers were then obliged to move the two huts and Dana to another community. She lived there for about a year and a half, having no problems with her neighbors. Dana painted her hut, and her art work was creative enough to be featured with a Mad Housers exhibit at a gallery in 1992. Recently she has moved into an apartment and is dating one of the Mad Houser volunteers.


SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Mad Houser huts are designed as temporary refuges, providing a minimal protection from the weather and the dangers of the street. The Mad Houser program is cost-effective, supplying basic shelter at an average cost of less than $60 per client

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