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

By Anna Lou Dehavenon | Go to book overview

Epilogue: A Perilous Bridge

Marvin Harris (With apologies to Thornton Wilder)

Imagine a bridge that spans a deep gorge. Thousands walk across the bridge every day and cross over safely. But the bridge has been constructed with a special device that prevents it from becoming overloaded. Every so often trap doors in the roadway drop open, and a number of people fall through and are dashed to pieces on the rocks below. Then the doors automatically swing up, and traffic resumes. Although everyone knows that the bridge has this defect, they do nothing to correct its design but continue to use it. They have been told that the doors drop open only when stepped on by people who have just never learned to walk right. Indeed, whenever someone falls through, the crowd shouts insults as the miscreants hurtle downward: "Don't ever try to use this bridge again!" In reality, however, the doors drop open at random intervals, regardless of who steps on them.

I contend that there is a great deal of resemblance between this nightmarish bridge and the circumstances that create and perpetuate homelessness and poverty in the USA. Our social engineers have in fact built an economy that depends on dumping millions of people through the trap door of unemployment onto the rocks of homelessness and poverty. The standard explanation for this punitive system is that if there is no unemployment, the labor market becomes too tight, the prices of goods and services rise without corresponding increments in productivity, and inflation rates soar to dangerous, runaway levels. Crucial to an etic analysis of the causes of poverty and homelessness is the fact that the government regularly manipulates the unemployment rate to prevent inflation. It does this through the authority vested in the Federal Reserve System to raise or lower interest rates (high interest rates, less investment, more unemployment).

At the end of World War II, the achievement of "full employment" was accorded the highest priority among the goals of democratic societies. It was written into the United Nations Charter and was implicit in Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms," as "Freedom from Want." But during the 1970s and 1980s the goal of

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

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contemporary Urban Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables and Figures ix
  • Prologue: Azdak Lives xi
  • Notes xiv
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • Conclusion xx
  • 1: Poverty and Homelessness in Rural Upstate New York 1
  • Introduction 1
  • Summary and Recommendations 13
  • Conclusion 16
  • Notes 16
  • 2: The 1990 Decennial Census and Patterns of Homelessness in a Small New England City 19
  • Introduction 19
  • Summary and Recommendations 30
  • Conclusion 33
  • Note 33
  • 3: Doubling-Up: A Strategy of Urban Reciprocity to Avoid Homelessness in Detroit 35
  • Introduction 35
  • Summury and Recommendations 46
  • Conclusion 48
  • Notes 48
  • 4: Doubling-Up and New York City's Policies for Sheltering Homeless Families 51
  • Introduction 51
  • Summary and Recomendations 63
  • Conclusion 64
  • Conclusion 65
  • 5: A Home by Any Means Necessary: Government Policy on Squatting in the Public Housing of a Large Mid-Atlantic City 67
  • Introduction 67
  • Summary and Recommendations 76
  • Conclusion 78
  • Notes 78
  • 6: Huts for the Homeless: A Low- Technology Approach for Squatters in Atlanta, Georgia 81
  • Introduction 81
  • Summary and Recommendations 100
  • Conclusion 102
  • 7: Piety and Poverty: The Religious Response to the Homeless in Albuquerque, New Mexico 105
  • Introduction 105
  • Summary and Recommendations 114
  • Conclusion 116
  • Conclusion 117
  • 8: Suburban Homelessness and Social Space: Strategies of Authority and Local Resistance in Orange County, California 121
  • Introduction 121
  • Summary and Recommendations 140
  • Conclusion 141
  • Conclusion 142
  • 9: "There Goes the Neighborhood": Gentrification, Displacement, and Homelessness in Washington, D.C. 145
  • Introdution 145
  • Summary and Recommendations 160
  • Conclusions 162
  • Conclusions 163
  • Conclusion 165
  • Epilogue: A Perilous Bridge 175
  • References 177
  • Index 193
  • Contributors 203
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