The homeless are a marginalized population vulnerable to structural forces and policy decisions, including lack of affordable housing, systemic inequalities, and lack of adequate social safety net. Homelessness is commonly medicalized (linked to individual deviancy and mental illness) by service administrators and policymakers, causing structural causes to be overlooked. A "vertical slice" approach is particularly useful to show perspectives and strategies that affect homelessness from multiple levels. Using ethnographic research methods, this project explores homelessness in Central Florida from three distinct but interrelated angles: (1) the perspective of homeless persons, (2) the perspective of staff members at Hope Helps, a non-profit organization seeking to help the homeless, and (3) the perspective of policymakers. Methods include participant observation at Hope Helps, interviews with people from each group, and policy document analysis. Specifically, I examine how perceptions and discourses of homelessness affect the strategies of these three groups, and ways in which these strategies intersect. Findings demonstrate that while homeless persons view the reasons for their own homelessness as economic, they perceive other people to be homeless for individualized reasons, including the use of medicalization and criminalization. Many perpetuate rhetoric that blames immigrants, minorities, and other poor persons for the lack of assistance services and jobs available. This greatly reduces homeless persons' ability to collectivize, support each other, and protest for change. Staff at Hope Helps also uses individualized discourses, focusing on helping homeless and low-income persons budget resources, rather than working towards systemic change. Policymakers in Orlando, which in 2009 was considered the third "meanest city" in the nation due to criminalization measures, are now focusing on a new Housing First approach, though the efficacy of this approach and their motives remain questionable. This research has potential to make politics behind policies affecting the homeless more transparent. It would further identify a common language and interests, which can serve as the bridge between homeless seeking services, and service providers. Thus, results of this research have potential to improve the way services for the homeless are structured, and to inform policy relevant to the homeless in Florida. Further, it contributes to anthropological literature on discourse and neoliberalism, and how discourse can be used to justify particular policy directions.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Young, Rebecca, "Devising Strategies, Managing Needs: A Multi-Level Study of Homelessness in Central Florida" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 4864.