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The Value of Homelessness

Managing Surplus Life in the United States

2015
Author:

Craig Willse

The Value of Homelessness

How social welfare and social science came to reinforce, not combat, racialized housing insecurity

Craig Willse provides the first analysis of how housing insecurity becomes organized as a governable social problem. The Value of Homelessness argues that homelessness today is an effect of social services and sciences, which shape what will—or ultimately won’t—be done about it.

Finally, in all the work done on homelessness, Craig Willse puts the focus on the complexity of violence and the ways in which housing intersects with poverty, class, sexuality, and, especially, race.

Vincent Lyon-Callo, Western Michigan University

It is all too easy to assume that social service programs respond to homelessness, seeking to prevent and understand it. The Value of Homelessness argues that homelessness today is an effect of social services and social sciences, which shape not only what counts as such but what will⎯or ultimately won’t⎯be done about it.

Through a history of U.S. housing insecurity from the 1930s to the present, Craig Willse traces the emergence and consolidation of a homeless services industry. How to most efficiently allocate resources to control ongoing insecurity has become the goal, he shows, rather than how to eradicate the social, economic, and political bases of housing needs. Drawing on his own years of work in homeless advocacy and activism, as well as interviews conducted with program managers, counselors, and staff at homeless services organizations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, Willse provides the first analysis of how housing insecurity becomes organized as a governable social problem.

An unprecedented and powerful historical account of the development of contemporary ideas about homelessness and how to manage homelessness, The Value of Homelessness offers new ways for students and scholars of social work, urban inequality, racial capitalism, and political theory to comprehend the central role of homelessness in governance and economy today.

The Value of Homelessness

Craig Willse is assistant professor of cultural studies at George Mason University. He is coeditor of Beyond Biopolitics: Essays on the Governance of Life and Death.

The Value of Homelessness

Finally, in all the work done on homelessness, Craig Willse puts the focus on the complexity of violence and the ways in which housing intersects with poverty, class, sexuality, and, especially, race.

Vincent Lyon-Callo, Western Michigan University

The Value of Homelessness. . . contains detailed and provocative claims that move beyond current paradigms on the governance of homeless populations. . . Willse’s text undoubtedly makes an important contribution towards a necessary rethinking of homelessness. It is a book which will likely be of interest to all those passionate about matters of social justice for years to come.

Society & Space

This book asks and then critically answers the question of what it means to be homeless. . . a must read for anyone interested in the issue.

CHOICE

This is genuinely an important read for people in the homeless service industry and those in power and shaping policy.

RealChangeNews.org

The Value of Homelessness

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Housing and Other Monsters
1. Surplus Life, or Race and Death in Neoliberal Times
2. Homelessness as Method: Social Science and the Racial Order
3. From Pathology to Population: Managing Homelessness in the United States
4. Governing through Numbers: HUD and the Databasing of Homelessness
5. The Invention of Chronic Homelessness
Conclusion: Surplus Life at the Limits of the Good
Notes
Index

The Value of Homelessness

UMP blog: Homelessness and housing justice in gentrifying Brooklyn

City support for eviction defense is hard to argue against. But at best, the program is a stopgap that will slow the flow of people from homes to shelters. Eviction defense does nothing to address the root causes of housing insecurity that produce vulnerability to eviction among New York’s poor and working classes, predominantly populations of color.