Designer shelters as models and makers of home: new responses to homelessness in urban America

Urban Geography (Impact Factor: 1.75). 03/1994; 15(2):150-167. DOI: 10.2747/0272-3638.15.2.150


As the number of homeless people grew over the 1980s, so did the number of homeless shelters. Given that these recently established shelters are smaller, more specialized, and tend to assist those segments of the homeless population more likely to be mainstreamed, they are intentionally designed to be a model of a middle-class home for the people they serve. This paper examines the process by which designer shelters became part of the contemporary urban scene. It explores the notion that in and through these institutions poor and homeless people are being told how to live. Evidence of how designer shelters have become a model of a middle-class home, and how designer shelters reproduce this model through their policies and practices, is gathered from various sources. City planning documents and shelter mission statements obtained from Wilmington, Delaware illustrate the process of creating model homemakers out of homeless people. Some of the spatial and social implications of this process are discussed.

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    • "Homelessness and home are both socially and culturally constructed concepts (Hutson and Liddiard, 1994; Somerville, 1992). Definitions are relative and meanings shift over time and depend on whose ideology, standards, and criteria are accepted (Neale, 1997) and relate to features of the world in which we live: social status, tenure, and domestic relations (Somerville, 1992; Veness, 1994). Homeless people too access normative constructions of homelessness (May, 2000:739). "
    Dataset: Moore JAPR

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    • "They illustrate processes of cohabitation between homeless and housed citizens. In her work on 'designer shelters', Veness (1994) notes that the very structure of such institutions and associated policies and practices tell homeless people how to behave and live according to 'middle-class norms'. Such settings are associated with the 'remodelling' of poor people. "
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    • "Traces here can be visual/material (cast-off blankets or worn clothing) or sonic (the spoken or shouted markers of begging or Big Issue selling), as the props used to attract attention and generosity leave a mark on these spaces. Butler's notion of`doing discourse' resonates well with the well-worn everyday routines which can characterise how homeless people receive welfare in the institutional spaces of the hostel or the day centreöroutines which are underpinned by disciplinary discourses of what it is to be homeless (Veness, 1994; Williams, 1996). Thrift's nonrepresentational practices of being-in-the-world can be traced most effectively in those less frequently remarked moments brought into being by the interactions of homeless people, and between homeless people and members of the housed public, which move around momentary and prediscursive outbursts of generosity, anger, and unrehearsed sociability: in street gatherings, in day centres, in hostels, or in begging encounters, for example. "
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