Lynne Rienner Publishers Logo

Confronting Homelessness: Poverty, Politics, and the Failure of Social Policy

David Wagner with Jennifer Barton Gilman
Confronting Homelessness: Poverty, Politics, and the Failure of Social Policy
ISBN: 978-1-58826-823-5
ISBN: 978-1-62637-391-4
ISBN: 978-1-62637-523-9
2012/207 pages/LC: 2012009733
Social Problems, Social Constructions
Also of interest: At Home on the Street: People, Poverty, and a Hidden Culture of Homelessness by Jason Adam Wasserman and Jeffrey Michael Clair, My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals by Leslie Irivne, and Ending Homelessness: Why We Haven't, How We Can edited by Donald W. Burnes and David L. DiLeo.
"Not only does a thorough job of outlining the history of homelessness in the United States, but also brings attention to the minimal progress the United States has made in addressing this issue."—Contemporary Sociology

"An excellent book; one of the best on the topic. Highly recommended."—Choice

"A provocative and unique reconsideration of the movement to combat mass homelessness in the United States in the past decades."—Robert Hayes, founder, National Coalition for the Homeless   

"Wagner correctly explains the causes of homelessness and the essentials for combating it. After reading Confronting Homelessness, the reader will emerge well-informed of the political barriers and potential solutions to one of America’s greatest and most persistent social ills."—Neil J. Donovan, Executive Director, National Coalition for the Homeless

"In his deft analysis, David Wagner traces the trajectory of homelessness and, especially, public responses to this enduring social problem."—Joel Blau, State University of New York, Stony Brook

"An excellent overview of the contemporary social problem of homelessness in the United States … Provides a powerful way of understanding not only homelessness but other social problems as well."—Dee Southard, University of Southern Oregon


Choice Outstanding Academic Book!

Whose fault is homelessness? Thirty years ago the problem exploded as a national crisis, drawing the attention of activists, the media, and policymakers at all levels—yet the homeless population endures to this day, and arguably has grown. David Wagner offers a major reconsideration of homelessness in the US, casting a critical eye on how we as a society respond to crises of inequality and stratification.

Incorporating local studies into a national narrative, Wagner probes how homelessness shifted from being the subject of a politically charged controversy over poverty and social class to posing a functional question of social-service delivery. At the heart of his analysis is a provocative insight into why we accept highly symbolic policies that dampen public outrage, but fail to address the fundamental structural problems that would allow real change.


David Wagner is professor of social work and sociology at the University of Southern Maine. Wagner received the SSSP C. Wright Mills Award for his book Checkerboard Square: Culture and Resistance in a Homeless Community. Jennifer Barton Gilman is an independent scholar.


  • Homelessness: From Crisis to Routine.
  • The Rise and Fall of a Social Problem.
  • A Brief History of Homelessness.
  • Recognizing and Naming a Crisis, 1979-1982.
  • Modest Victories, 1983-1988.
  • Criminalization and Compassion Fatigue, 1989-1993.
  • From Social Problem to Bureaucratic Problem, 1994-Present.
  • Lessons Learned.