Poverty and Place in Urban America
Publication Year: 2013
The homeless have the legal right to exist in modern American cities, yet antihomeless ordinances deny them access to many public spaces. How did previous generations of urban dwellers deal with the tensions between the rights of the homeless and those of other city residents? Ella Howard answers this question by tracing the history of skid rows from their rise in the late nineteenth century to their eradication in the mid-twentieth century.
Focusing on New York's infamous Bowery, Homeless analyzes the efforts of politicians, charity administrators, social workers, urban planners, and social scientists as they grappled with the problem of homelessness. The development of the Bowery from a respectable entertainment district to the nation's most infamous skid row offers a lens through which to understand national trends of homelessness and the complex relationship between poverty and place. Maintained by cities across the country as a type of informal urban welfare, skid rows anchored the homeless to a specific neighborhood, offering inhabitants places to eat, drink, sleep, and find work while keeping them comfortably removed from the urban middle classes. This separation of the homeless from the core of city life fostered simplistic and often inaccurate understandings of their plight. Most efforts to assist them centered on reforming their behavior rather than addressing structural economic concerns.
By midcentury, as city centers became more valuable, urban renewal projects and waves of gentrification destroyed skid rows and with them the public housing and social services they offered. With nowhere to go, the poor scattered across the urban landscape into public spaces, only to confront laws that effectively criminalized behavior associated with abject poverty. Richly detailed, Homeless lends insight into the meaning of homelessness and poverty in twentieth-century America and offers us a new perspective on the modern welfare system.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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Table of Contents
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IN 1961, New York City Mayor Robert Wagner announced a major renewal initiative for the city’s infamous skid row. Based on research conducted by social scientists, Operation Bowery...
1: The Challenge of the Depression
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DURING the 1920s, Urbain Ledoux opened “the Tub” on St. Mark’s Place on the Lower East Side. Known as “Mr. Zero,” the businessman turned philanthropist offered meals and lodging to New York’s homeless men. A Buddhist, Ledoux felt called...
2: A New Deal for the Homeless
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IN an April 1932 campaign speech, Democratic presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his commitment to projects “that build from the bottom up...
3: Skid Row in an Era of Plenty
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DURING the early 1950s, author and activist Michael Harrington lived near the Bowery as a member of the Catholic Worker, the group founded by Dorothy Day...
4: Urban Renewal and the Challenge of Homelessness
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BY the late 1950s, America’s skid rows were sparsely populated slum districts. Surveying the Bowery, the New York City Planning Commission observed “a mixture of old tenements, commercial...
5: Operation Bowery and Social Scientific Inquiry
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THE interviewer seated in the lobby of the Bowery’s Uncle Sam Hotel with a homeless man who was lodging there, proceeded to ask a series of questions. “Subject six,” he learned...
6: The End of the Skid-Row Era
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IN his memoir of New York City homelessness, Lee Stringer described with biting irony the surprise of a professional coming across a cluster of homeless people sleeping...
Conclusion: Whither the Homeless
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IN 1956, as the Hart Island rehabilitation facility was being closed, New York City Chief Magistrate John Murtagh, in front of whom vagrants appeared for sentencing, warned...
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I am indebted to many sources of financial, intellectual, and personal support that enabled me to write this book. A Larry J. Hackman Research Residency Award facilitated a trip to the...
Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 21 illus.
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Politics and Culture in Modern America