Doctoral Dissertation Defense, GSS Grad: Karen M. Mahar

Event information
Venue:FIU MMC, SIPA 502-503

Doctoral Dissertation Defense

Date: November 9, 2012
Time: 1:00 P.M.
Place: FIU MMC, SIPA 502-503
Major Professor: Dr. Alex Stepick


Not Getting By: Poverty Management and Homelessness in Miami

By Karen M. Mahar

Urban inequality has emerged as one of the dominant themes of modern life and globalization. More than three million people experienced homeless in the United States last year; in Miami-Dade, more than 15,000 individuals were homeless. Surviving extreme poverty, and exiting or avoiding homelessness, involves negotiating a complex mix of public and private assistance. However, a range of factors influence what types of help are available and how they can be accessed. Frequently, larger social structures determine which resource are available, leaving many choices entirely out of the individual’s control. For single men, who are ineligible for many benefits, homelessness can be difficult to avoid and even harder to exit. This study seeks to better understand how adult, minority men living in extreme poverty in Miami-Dade negotiate their daily survival. Specific research questions address: Do African American and Hispanic men who are homeless or at risk of homelessness have different personal characteristics and different experiences in avoiding or exiting homelessness? How does Miami’s response to extreme poverty/homelessness, including availability of public benefits and public and private service organizations, either maximize or constrain the choices available to this population? And, what is the actual experience of single, adult men who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, in negotiating their daily survival? A mixed methods approach combines quantitative survey data from 7,605 homeless men, with qualitative data from 54 semi-structured interviews incorporating the visual ethnography techniques of Photo Elicitation Interviewing. Results show the differences experienced by black and Hispanic men who are poor and homeless in Miami. Finding also highlight how the community’s official and unofficial responses to homelessness intersect with the actual experiences of the persons targeted by the policies and programs, challenging pre-conceived notions regarding the lives of persons living in extreme poverty. It adds to the existing body of literature by focusing on single men, a population that is frequently overlooked in studies examining welfare, benefits and social capital. Findings are intended to provide an empirically grounded thesis that humanizes the subjects and illuminates their personal experiences, helping to inform public policy around the needs of extremely poor populations.

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