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Homeless

You can read some of the autobiographical narratives by homeless people in Milwaukee that were collected by Dr. Lackey by clicking here. Learn more about Urban Anthropology here.

At the end of a day walking “The Circuit” from breakfast at St. James, to “The Breach,” to dinner at St. Ben’s, the homeless look for shelter. And if the missions are full, or inebriation has been a part of that particular day’s circuit, they look for a place to hide. Often the Riverwest riverbanks offer such a refuge. A daytime walk along the river paths will reveal many such campsites. Concerned about the shelterless people using Riverside Park as an encampment, the Urban Ecology Center hosted a forum on July 13 led by Dr. Jill Florence Lackey of Marquette University and Urban Anthropology, Inc. Dr. Lackey, one of the original founders of the Repairers of the Breach, a day center for those without housing, is collecting oral histories of homelessness. She approaches the homeless at St. James, “The Breach,” the Public Library, and St. Ben’s. There she offers individuals five dollars to spend ten minutes responding to four questions: What was your life like before you became homeless? How did you become homeless? What has your life been like as a homeless person? And, if you have managed to remove yourself from homelessness, how did you do it? Then she listens. Their stories show that the pathways to homelessness are varied. Unemployment, eviction, addiction, family problems, mental or physical illness, and other personal crises can all empty a life of the means to provide a roof. “It’s like the Cinderella story in reverse,” says an out-of-work welder. “I had a good job making $40,000 a year. And then the company moved to Atlanta. And I was out on the streets.” Once homeless, the original problems multiply. Those who were not addicts — and most homeless people originally aren’t — easily slide into ways of numbing the despair, fear, and shame. Their lives quickly deteriorate and the difficulty of recovery increases with time. “I’ve got no one,” says one man. “I’m all alone. You have to deal with yourself every day. And it’s hard because you don’t think very much of yourself.” Lackey insists that prevention is essential, but offers no solutions. “It’s an invisible problem,” she says. “Homelessness is not a problem until it occurs; so how do you create programs to prevent it? I am not a social worker and do not really know what prevention would look like. All I can do is hope that by raising awareness I can begin a conversation.” The stories reveal that the route out of homelessness most often goes through some kind of community of faith. The individuals and families find ways back into a caring group and that begins to lift the shame and despair. Their lives are no longer hidden. And visibility itself elicits aid. From the interviews Lackey intends to create a documentary portrayal of 109 lives touched by homelessness. Her hope is to give voice and visibility to these hidden lives. You can read some of the stories of the homless collected by Dr. Lackey by clicking here. For more information, internships, and classes in doing oral history, Urban Anthropology, Inc. can be contacted through its web page at www.urban-anthropology.org.

You can read some of the autobiographical narratives by homeless people in Milwaukee that were collected by Dr. Lackey by clicking here. Learn more about Urban Anthropology here.