“i Only Have Two Arms To Help Myself”: Relationships Of Power And The Rhetoric Of Autonomy And Individual Blame At A Crisis Center For Homeless Youth

Joseph A. Wallerstein, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Efforts'to'advance'resident'autonomy'and'stability'are'prevalent'within' homeless'shelters.''At'the'same'time,'relationships'of'power'and'negotiations'of' governance'are'commonly'expressed'in'the'implementation'of'rules'and'in'the' specifications'of'shelter'guidelines.''How'can'all'of'these'interests'coexist?''In'this' paper'I'rely'on'participant?observation'research'conducted'at'Covenant'House' Newark'(CHN),'a'crisis'center'for'homeless'youth,'to'reveal'an'important' contradiction'in'the'operation'of'short?term'shelters:'though'autonomy'may'be' promoted,'stringent'regulations'constrict'independence.''Inherent'in'life'at'CHN'is'a' struggle'between'more'symbolically'powerful'staff'members,'who'exercise'power' and'judgments'over'residents'in'accordance'with'what'society'at'large'and'shelter' leadership'deem'appropriate,'and'youth,'who'variously'profess'to'feel'empowered' and'challenge'those'they'perceive'as'interfering'with'their'desires,'goals,'and' philosophies.''Understanding'how'effective'processes'of'individual'change'can'be' initiated'will'require'sincere'consideration'of'the'extent'to'which'“necessary”' limitations'of'personal'liberty'within'an'environment'that'pushes'autonomy' actually'represent'manifestations'of'symbolic'processes'of'power.''Furthermore,' power'differentials'and'the'transmission'of'messages'about'worth,'deservingness,' and'compliance'should'be'scrutinized'by'shelter'staff'members'and'top'leadership.'

 

Date Posted: 08 June 2016