Understanding homelessness. Personal experience

Essay by Anonymous UserA+, September 1996

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I knew that I would encounter homelessness when I came to Berkeley. I was expecting it, because just about everybody I knew had something to say about the rumors they'd heard filter over from the West Coast. Coming from New York, however, I figured I'd seen it all, and would be in control over whatever I would be up against. Reality quickly hit me, though, as I began to familiarize myself with Berkeley and its main streets. I'd never seen anything quite like Telegraph Avenue and People's Park. No matter how much poverty one has seen throughout the course of their lives, it's far more difficult to accept when it occurs in areas of high concentration.

Understanding the nature of homeless people asking for money and their interactions with people walking up and down a main street such as Telegraph Avenue is a difficult task. This observation process, which took place on Telegraph Avenue watching the homeless at 'work', was difficult because of the wealth of information one could find in simply watching as one person asked another for money.

We looked for a number of signals in the interactions, considering people's ages, how they reacted physically, whether or not they communicated verbally, their demeanor throughout the interaction, and the importance of eye-contact. We must also wrestle with the ambiguity of the power structure within the situation, because it is not nearly as clear as it seems. In the end, we will try to decipher the true nature of these confrontations, concluding by comparing the analysis of these situations to those found in the works of Erving Goffman and Robin Leidner.


The difficulty in defining the parameters of dominance within the interaction comes in understanding the disparity between the social status of the person being asked for money...