Homelessness Ethnography: David

June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Understanding the diversity and variability of those living on the streets and their respective stories is the first step in addressing the widespread problem of homelessness.  Much too often do people group homeless people into one category in terms of judging their background before meeting them.  The common phrase of “homelessness is a choice” or “they’ll use the money for drugs or alcohol” is not only prejudiced, but is weighted in ignorance that parallels racism.  While homelessness is not associated with one specific race (as people of all races can be seen without homes in Durham), the most popular social response to a homeless person is similar to traditional racism.  It is essentially economic segregation.  From these prejudices, people often refuse interaction with the homeless.

This week, I visited two places to conduct my research.  The first was a place called Urban Ministries.  Urban Ministries of Durham is an organization that provides food, clothing, and shelter for the homeless of the area as well as those struggling on the edge of keeping their homes.  At Urban Ministries, I found the majority, if not all, of those receiving help to be black men and women.  Since UMD is located in downtown East Durham, I found this to be an interesting statistic in regards to the demographics of the area.  Downtown East Durham, in general, is regarded as the more impoverished, lower socioeconomic area of Durham.  The majority of the population in East Durham is also black.  Considering these facts, it was not surprising to find most of the Social Services and other Ministries located in this area.  I was not able to speak with any of the residents as I only observed, but I was able to gather this information to discuss further on the diversity of homelessness in my paper.

However, my largest amount of research came in the form of an interview that I conducted with a man named David on the median among the cars at the New Hope Commons.  David discussed his story of how he was in the Army for sixteen years, came back home where he was laid off during the economic slump, and how his wife died of cancer three years ago.  He told me specifically of how each day is different, with good days and bad days, and how he wakes up specifically thanking God for his life.  He further told me of how he is able to live in a cabin with another friend named Sparky, but he never knows if it is permanent.  “Finding a job is extremely hard in this economy, but everyday is a new day,” he said.  When asked if he could consider himself happy or not, he responded, “I’m content. Really nothing to worry about with God. But times are pretty tough.”

My meeting with David specifically showed me a different attitude of homelessness.  With little money and no job, David was a warm hearted, friendly man.  He described more details about his interactions with the general public and the police, which I will discuss more in the paper itself.  However, the biggest thing that I pulled from my interview with David was his never-ending spirit of hope and optimism.  From this, I will hopefully be able to show the realism behind the spirit of a homeless man in my paper.


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