Homeless Black Men of Los Angeles' Skid Row


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"Living in Hell in the City of Angels: Identity Construction and Condition Management among Black Homeless Men of Los Angeles' Skid Row"

A Senior Thesis by Michael Habashi of Duke University

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Homeless Black Men of Los Angeles' Skid Row

  2. 2. RESEARCH QUESTION How do black homeless men of Los Angeles‟ Skid Row engage varieties of “talk” in constructing their identity and coping with and explaining their condition?© Google Maps
  3. 3. A growing body of research on homelessness hasfocused on the means by which marginalized individualseffectively engage in impression management in theabsence of traditional resources for self-presentation.My research focused on the varieties of “talk” thatblack homeless men employ in “identity construction”and “condition management.” This paper is based on amixed methods study of the lives of 20 black homelessmen of Los Angeles‟ Skid Row. Analysis revealed thatrespondents utilized four patterns of talk in order tomake sense of themselves and their situation: (a)blaming, (b) stereotyping, (c) distancing, and (d)redemptive storytelling. These varieties of talkrepresent strategic methods by which the individualmakes meaning of and copes with their state ofhomelessness. THESIS ABSTRACT
  4. 4. DATA COLLECTION OVERVIEW SECONDARY DATA PRIMARY DATA Background statistical data on Partnership with The Midnight debilitating factors causing Mission, a key homeless services homelessness organization on Skid Row, provided o US Department of Housing & safe access to population Urban Development  20 interviews of black homeless o US Census men on Skid Row o Los Angeles Homeless o 10 living on the streets and/or Services Authority other unsuitable locations o National Alliance to End o 10 living at Mission‟s 12-step Homelessness recovery program o Substance Abuse & Mental o Combination of convenience & Health Services Association snowball sampling Background literature on self-  Survey of 120 men of various presentation and identity talk races in recovery program
  5. 5. DATA OVERVIEW Overview of sample:  Average Age: 53 years-old | Range: 39-72 years-old  Average Level in Program: 1.4 | Range: 0-4  60% never married | Average number of marriages: 1.6  Average number of kids: 2 | Range: 0-15  Average number of terms incarcerated: 6 | Range: 0-25  45% raised in a single-parent household Interviews coded for four patterns of talk: blame Mexican mother crack high wrong Hispanic father alcohol liquor deserve Asian pops drink abuse self white parent smoke beat Hell black teacher weed hurt pride God education cocaine whooping
  6. 6. DATA OVERVIEW:EDUCATION STATUS College graduate 5% Some high school GED obtainee 20% 15% Some middle school 10% Some college Some trade school 30% 15% High school graduate 5%
  7. 7. “These men were supposed to be…Dining Hall of The Midnight Mission © The Midnight Mission
  8. 8. …the CEOs, presidents, business owners, and husbands… Outside The Midnight Mission © The Midnight Mission
  9. 9. …that didn’t make it.” (Quincy, age 46) Streets of Skid Row © Sheena Yoon
  10. 10. FILLING THE GAP Research on homelessness often focuses on debilitating factors such as prison history, mental illness, substance abuse, etc. My research adds to the study of homelessness:  Integrates background statistical data and research on causes of homelessness  Adds to forms of “identity talk” among homeless populations as explored by:  David Snow & Leon Anderson (1995) on street people of Austin, TX  Katherine Boydell et. al (2000) on single adult shelter users of Toronto, CA  Leslie Irvine (2013) on homeless pet guardians of Boulder, CO  Expands “talk” to two interconnected frames:  Identity Construction – making sense of self  Condition Management – making sense of situation
  11. 11. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK THE SELF  Emerges from social interactions; it is the “experience of ourselves” as unique individuals (Mead 1934) SELF -PRESENTATION & IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT  We attempt to control others‟ impressions of the self  We engage in self-presentation in three dimensions (Goffman 1959) ① Defining our place in the social order ② Setting the tone and direction of social interactions ③ Facilitating performance of role-governed behavior SELF & LANGUAGE  “Words are basic to the formation of his self, and words are the only way he can control his environment.” (Becker 1971)
  12. 12. FORMS OF IDENTITY what we think about “People who make up theourselves: “subjective sense” ego marginalized groups of a of who we are and particular social context are how we exist in the world more often faced with dilemmas that require them to what others understand social choose between acting in accordance with their self- about us based on groups values or in accordance with we belong to the expectations of powerful others. These are the experiences where the what makes us unique: meanings related to the social “identity pegs” and personal identity attributed by others life histories conflict with the meanings related to one’s personal identity.”(Erickson 1995)
  13. 13. HOMELESSNESS physical psychological loss loss absence of conventional undesired ascription of resources for self-presentation marginalized identity individual relies on “talk” as a means of control REDEMPTIVE BLAMING STEREOTYPING DISTANCING STORYTELLING self-blame other black men associational embracement behavioral role optimismcharacterological behavioralblaming others Conceptual Model individuals IDENTITY CONDITION © Michael Habashi institutions CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT
  14. 14. (I) BLAMING Sample employed four forms of blaming:  Self-blame  Behavioral self-blame  Involves attributions to modifiable source (one‟s behavior)  Control-related  Characterological self-blame  Involves attributions to relatively non-modifiable source (one‟s character)  Esteem-related  Blaming of others  Blaming of individuals  Individuals who victimized the respondent  Blaming of institutions  Institutions (i.e. education and prison systems) that victimized the respondent
  15. 15. BEHAVIORAL SELF-BLAME“Things were going good, but Idunno…I‟m very selfish. Very, veryselfish. Self-centered. I wanted to dowhat I wanted to do because I felt sodeprived all that time prior, living on thestreets and this and that. And I waslike, “the hell I‟m gonna do what Iwanna do.” (BARRY, age 56)
  16. 16. CHARACTEROLOGICAL SELF-BLAME“My mind…It obsesses. It‟s insane andbrings about a craving. A craving thatdoesn‟t go away, like an allergy…It justnever will stop. It‟s more spiritual thananything else.” (QUINCY, age 46)
  17. 17. “Ever since I can remember, the whiteman has devised ways to crumble theblack family structure…When they putthat crack in our neighborhoods, that INDIVIDUALS BLAMING OFwas the one that broke the camel‟sback…That crack, man, it‟s phenomenal.It really cut at the very structure of theblack family.” (BARRY, age 56)“[Race] made me susceptible. Beingblack…strongest man on earth…Bornrich. Africa sold us to America. Ourgovernment sold us. We became captiveslaves to Americans, but really, we weresold by our own people. We cannotblame the white man. We soldourselves.” (ISAIAH, age 54)
  18. 18. “I‟d be a cop-out to say race plays a partin the decisions I made. No. I‟ve madethe decisions I made on my own. But INSTITUTIONSrace, racism exists. Racism does hinder BLAMING OFand discourage you from certainthings…You know you might not be ableto get this job. You know you might notbe able to go over here and do this…Butthat‟s just the way it is. So you can‟t usethat as a cop-out. That just means yougot to strive a little harder to advance.It‟s just gonna make the road a littlemore difficult than it is…You can‟tchange it…And you just got to keep onpushing, man.” (PHIL, age 46)
  19. 19. (II) STEREOTYPING Sample employed one form of stereotyping:  Racial stereotyping of other black men  Candor and comfort when using such stereotypes may have been product of my racially ambiguous appearance  Could speak about blacks in a certain way without fear of offending me
  20. 20. “Most black men have the decision tomake f***ed up choices in life. Insteadof going to school and trying to get a STEREOTYPINGjob, they want to…getting in with the in-crowd, hanging out with gangmembers, selling dope, selling RACIALweed, doing…shortcuts.” (NATHAN, age48)“Black people…a lot of them is likediscouraged. I should say, well, a lot ofthem is egotistical. They don‟t want towork no honest 9 to 5…They thinksomeone owe them something for thepast. „Everybody gets retributions butthe blacks.‟ So a lot of people use thatas a cop-out.” (PHIL, age 46)
  21. 21. (III) DISTANCING Sample employed three forms of distancing:  Associational distancing  Distancing from other homeless individuals  Role distancing  Distancing from current condition of homelessness  Behavioral distancing  Distancing from actions and decisions of their past
  22. 22. “I‟m the type of black…I‟m notghettoish, as you would say. I haveculture…So dealing with my people onthis level is very hard for me. It was ASSOCIATIONALreally traumatic. Just the part I wasn‟t DISTANCINGready for.” (BARRY, age 56)“A lot of them are just damn lazy…WhenI was your age, I had an apartment, acar, and I was working…But the youngpeople that just come down here tohang out…“What the hell is wrong withyou people?” They don‟t want to doanything and this is the life…“How canyou think this is the life when you‟re22?” This ain‟t it. Get a job. Go worksomewhere. Get off your butt.” (CHUCK, age 56)
  23. 23. DISTANCING“A lot of these guys…don‟t really wantthe help. They on SSD [Social SecurityDisability] and they‟re content with that ROLEcheck every month. It‟s really sad. Icould get on it, but I don‟t want it. I‟drather work…But then you have decentenough people that, like myself, if theyjust had that help, they‟d get off here.” (BARRY, age 56)
  24. 24. “If I could turn the clock back, I would.Because when I first started drinking, I‟dmaybe drink a 30-ounce on the weekend BEHAVIORAL DISTANCINGwith my girl and get a couple of movies.But it just progressed and progressedand now…if I ain‟t got none I gotta goand recycle some.” (ALEX, age 39)“I definitely did not want to be what Iam now. I had dreams. A lot of dreams. Iwanted to be a model at first. I likedmodeling and then I got sidetracked offof that…Reality set in real quick. I neverreally pursued it.” (NATHAN, age 48)
  25. 25. (IV) REDEMPTIVE STORYTELLING Sample engaged in redemptive storytelling:  Redemption enters somewhere between losing hope and everything turning out for the best  Embracement  See positive outcomes even from negative events  Embrace past, present, and future condition  Optimism  Envision a positive, idealized future  Predict some Higher Power bringing them to a favorable future state
  26. 26. “I suffered a lot…being shot…I‟ve been STORYTELLINGstabbed…The drug use is just going in REDEMPTIVEand out of prison. I wouldn‟t want torepeat that, but it‟s an experience thatGod…as far as I‟m concerned, ithappened for a purpose. Because I‟mstill here. Maybe because of thecircumstances, I shouldn‟t be here afterall that I went through. But that‟s why Ifeel that He has a purpose for me.Hopefully it will be fulfilled.” (LUKE, age 65)
  27. 27. IMPLICATIONS OF FINDINGS TALKSEL F -PRESENTATION IDENTITY o Individuals must cope with CONSTRUCTION stigmatized condition o Talk enables individual to o Homelessness engenders a control environment – to physical and reject past, to reject social psychological, personal and context, and to embrace a social loss of identity future idealized self o Individuals can adopt a new o Talk supplements lack of form of identity through physical resources with invoking varieties of “talk” psychological resources o New identity both localized and removed from social CONDITION context MANAGEMENT blaming, stereotyping, distancing, redemptive storytelling
  28. 28. THANK YOU I’d love to hear from you. For comments, questions, and concerns,please email me at mikehabashi@gmail.com.