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At Home on the Street: People, Poverty, and a Hidden Culture of Homelessness

Jason Adam Wasserman and Jeffrey Michael Clair
At Home on the Street: People, Poverty, and a Hidden Culture of Homelessness
ISBN: 978-1-58826-725-2
ISBN: 978-1-58826-701-6
ISBN: 978-1-62637-460-7
2009/252 pages/LC: 2009023438
"Calls attention to the complexities and contradictions of research on homelessness and offers insights about how to think about homelessness in new ways.... The reflections provided by the researchers about their research experiences will be very helpful to students who are learning about fieldwork and ethnographic research."—Harriett Romo, Teaching Sociology

"Splendid.... The authors' near-disarming sincerity is offset by the reliability of their reports and familiarity with the existing literature.... This meditation on friendship as much as a cutting-edge report on homelessness is recommended for public policy players, psychologists, social workers, urban planners, sociologists, and anyone interested in the vicissitudes-and pleasures-of the research process."—Library Journal

"A revelation…. Wasserman and Clair offer a new way of looking at the diverse people living on the extreme margins of our society. Their rich ethnography confronts popular conceptions of homeless people and situates street homelessness as a choice distinct from living in shelters. Sociologists, service providers, and policymakers—not to mention students of homelessness and poverty—need to read this."—Michael Rowe, Yale University

"A powerful new look at homelessness that shows how the freedoms and community of the street can outweigh the constraints and dangers of life in shelters.... "—Kathy Charmaz, Sonoma State University

"The author's expansive data is firmly grounded in the literature and theory of homelessness, making this an exceptionally strong, interesting, and well-rounded study."—Timothy Pippert, Augsburg College 


In their compelling examination of what it means to be truly at home on the street, Jason Wasserman and Jeffrey Clair argue that programs and policies addressing homeless people too often serve only to alienate them.

Wasserman and Clair delve into the complex realities of homelessness to paint a vivid picture of individuals—not cases or pathologies—living on the street and of their strategies for daily survival.  By exploring the private spaces that those who are homeless create for themselves, as well as their prevailing social mores, the authors explain how well-intentioned policies and programs often only widen the gap between the indigent and mainstream society. The result is an unvarnished look at the culture of long-term homelessness and a fresh approach to reaching this resurgent population.


Jason Adam Wasserman is assistant professor of biomedical sciences in the William Beaumont School of Medicine at Oakland University. Jeffrey Michael Clair is associate professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


  • Introduction: Homelessness in the United States.
  • Accessing a Hidden Population.
  • Describing Those Who Are Homeless.
  • Causes of Homelessness.
  • Urban Space and Relations on the Street.
  • The Complex Dispositions of Those on the Street.
  • Street Identities and Creative Resistance.
  • Business, Politics, and the Moving Ghetto.
  • Homeless Services: Healing the Sick.
  • Religious Approaches: Saving Souls.
  • Conclusion: Improving Research, Improving Policy.