Street Stories: 100 Years of Homelessness in Vancouver.
Jeff Karabanow is an assistant professor in the Maritime School of
Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
The first section of this engaging look at homelessness in Vancouver explores the ways in which homeless people are socially, politically, and economically excluded from mainstream culture. The main argument, with much support from the academic literature, is that, throughout Western Canadian history, homeless populations have oscillated between being seen as both deserving and undeserving of public support. During times of Keynesian social safety net structures, homeless populations were better able to provide for themselves within civil society. However, the majority of history has demonstrated a strong neo-liberal agenda where individuals are expected to support themselves with little in terms of nation-state support. As such, much of history has blamed the homeless for their situations.
The second section involves in-depth photos/descriptions of homeless people—a way in which to provide the reader with a human exploration into this disturbing and dehumanizing social phenomenon. As we glimpse a frozen moment of these individuals’ lives—the reader becomes touched by their resilience, their strength, and their abilities to survive the devastation of loss, trauma, marginalization, and invisibility. These faces are the faces of the forgotten—street folks who have become marred in addiction, prostitution, food scavenging, begging, etc.—all under the indifferent and sometimes hostile gaze of civil society.
Homelessness continues to be debated within the media as a “choice” for those who are lazy, delinquent, criminal, and/or mentally ill. The academic literature, in its current explorations, appears to have concluded that being without home is less a product of individual pathology, and more a product of social structure. The authors are quite clear in their discussion of the effects of globalization with its neo-conservative and free market ideologies. Nation states throughout the globe have less inclination to provide for their less fortunate—we have dismantled financial assistance, shelter provision, educational alternatives and employment supports. Instead, we seem to ignore the growing masses who make the street their homes.
Street Stories eloquently portrays, in a humanistic manner, those who have the street as their safety net—and thus asks the simple yet poignant question of whether having a home is not an issue of human rights.