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Drifting Along or Dropping into Homelessness: A Class Analysis of Responses to Homelessness

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Abstract:  Prominent assumptions about street homelessness and how it should be addressed originate primarily from middle class domiciled worldviews. This article draws on interviews with 58 street homeless people to develop a typology for explaining different forms of homelessness resulting from differences in class of origin. The concepts of social distance and abjection are used to illustrate how class politics manifests in street homelessness and in responses to this issue. Many of our homeless participants referred to two broad groupings of homeless people who display distinct experiences and cultures in their daily lives on the streets. Drifters are people who do not experience homelessness as a sharp disjuncture from their previously housed life. Street homelessness is a continuation of the hardships of their lower class backgrounds. Droppers are people who have “fallen” on hard times and aspire to return to mainstream middle class lifeworlds. Differentiating between these two groups provides a space for defamiliarizing dominant understandings of, and current generic responses to, homelessness and foregrounds the need for reorienting services to better meet the needs of drifters.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2011.00977.x

Affiliations: School of Psychology, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand;

Publication date: September 1, 2012

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