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

By Anna Lou Dehavenon | Go to book overview

for those who knew that they would return to collect their possessions. Within the space of several hours, at most a day, the welded apartments were broken into by the previous occupants. Some would gather up their things and move on, often in search of another vacant apartment, while others installed new locks and once again set up housekeeping in the same apartment.

Squatters' responses usually varied according to how much time and money they had spent on fixing up their apartments. All of them went to the expense of installing their own locks. Many apartments were very neat and comfortable. They sparkled with fresh paint, carpets, draperies, modest but solid furniture, and electrical appliances. People with this sort of investment became very agitated, some to the point of crying. They often had to be physically removed. Those who offered the least resistance were destitute men who typically squatted in groups of three or four. They usually had short-term objectives--for example, finding a place to sleep for the night or getting out of the cold in the winter. Still others were incredulous. One man who typified this category of squatters could not understand why he was being evicted. Proffering a "receipt," he declared that he had been paying rent. In fact, he had been paying money, but he was the victim of a common ruse. The person to whom he had given his money was another tenant who had passed himself off as the building manager.


SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Like their counterparts in developing Third World states, MARHA and HUD officials see squatters as people who flout the law and the sanctity of property. Property rights take precedence over human rights in this view; the only appropriate bureaucratic responses involve eviction, locking someone out of his or her apartment, or arrest and presumably imprisonment.

In fact, however, findings show that, although motivated by a common need for shelter, squatters are--like other overlapping groups and categories, such as "the poor" or "the underclass"--not a monolithic group. Squatter behavior tends to vary with the amount of financial resources that squatters are able to garner. The same is true for MARHA public housing tenants in general. Tenants typically engage in a process of self-selection and floor-by-floor segregation. They move about within buildings, without MARHA authorization, to apartments on floors with people of comparable means and similar value orientations. One floor will be clean and occupied by families, including squatters; another will be dirty and largely vacant; and yet another, populated by drug users. Viable policy would acknowledge variations in squatter behavior and reflect these patterns.

The priority should be changing federal and local policy that fosters squatting in the first place. HUD's method of allocating public housing subsidies involves paying local authorities on a per-unit basis. It does not matter whether an apartment unit is occupied. HUD pays each authority a portion of the rent for each of its units; the balance of the rent is paid by the tenant. Taken together, these amounts make up

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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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