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Shelterization Revisited: Some Methodological Dangers of Institutional Studies of the Homeless
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This article revisits one of the key discussions that emerged during the homeless crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s, that of "shelterization," or the potentially demoralizing and desocializing effects of congregate emergency housing. Many of the fundamental assumptions underlying Goffman's "total institution" model that drove the shelterization discussion continue to influence research and policy. This model's tendency to abstract shelter life from the surrounding environment, overemphasize the impact of shelters on the behavior of residents, and explain the persistence of homelessness through reference to the psychosocial effects of shelter norms is examined and situated within the confluence of the growth of a shelter system in New York City in the 1980s, the expansion of federal funding through the 1987 McKinney Act, and the shared experience of researchers projecting and generalizing on their own experiences working in shelters. Examination of some of the methodological, theoretical, and political problems connected to institutional studies of the homeless during the 1980s and early 1990s will contribute to contemporary homeless policy and research that avoids overemphasizing the importance of the psychosocial and behavioral impact of shelters. (Author)
Journal
2003
Human Organization
62
2
134-142
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