Over 100 stories of homeless & formerly homeless in Southeastern Wisconsin
Between 2000 and late 2007, anthropologists, anthropology interns, and formerly homeless people collected 109 stories of the homeless and formerly homeless in Southeastern Wisconsin (mainly Milwaukee). All the homeless were paid $5 for their participation. They could structure their stories any way they wished and the stories could be long or short. The only topics they were asked specifically to address in the stories were the following:
1. Describe your life before you were homeless
2. Describe the path that led to your homelessness
3. Describe your life while you were homeless
4. If you are no longer homeless, describe the way you got off the streets
The people that gathered these stories and helped analyze them were anthropologists Jill Florence Lackey, Mary Roffers, Kelly Willis, Jamie Merkel, Kate Lindenmeyer and Brooke Phelps. In addition, formerly homeless UrbAn board member, Carol Smith, collected 25 stories.
Using Spradley’s (1980) emergent data analysis model, the following taxonomy of findings emerged. Please follow the links to samples of the actual stories themselves. The stories reveal the complexity of homelessness and the number of pathways into homelessness. They also reveal that the initial problems that led to homelessness are compounded once one is on the streets, making it extremely difficult (and sometimes nearly impossible) to find a way back. Any pre-homeless factor—lack of family-supporting job, inability to get good housing, drug and/or alcohol abuse, family problems, eviction, health problem, underemployment, mental illness, personal crisis, violence—will almost always move from bad to worse while homeless. Programs that specifically address homeless prevention are critical.