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Title:Touring homelessness? The reproduction of race, class, and urban space through grassroots homeless services in St. Louis, Missouri
Author(s):Schneider, Matthew Jerome
Director of Research:McDermott, Monica
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Liao, Tim F
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Moussawi, Ghassan; Dowling, Julie; VanHeuvelen, Tom
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Urban Space
Race and Ethnicity
Civic Engagement
Abstract:This dissertation interrogates practices of grassroots homeless service organizations in St. Louis, MO. Like many other contemporary U.S. cities, St. Louis has struggled to cope with a large homeless population. According to the annual point-in-time count, 1,798 people were counted as experiencing homelessness in St. Louis City and St. Louis County on a single night in January 2017. Of those counted, 77% identified as black (HUD 2017a, 2017b). With city and county governments failing to provide adequate human services and shelter in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area, a number of grassroots homeless service groups have taken to “the streets” in an effort to combat the problem.   Based on participant observation of these efforts, this dissertation makes three interlocking arguments. First, much is known about the antecedents and benefits of volunteering, but little has been written about the actual practice of volunteering. I argue that volunteering should be seen as a practice of meaning making. Homeless service provision provided volunteers with an opportunity to interact with a poor and predominantly black population. Then, based on their service experiences and conversations with other volunteers, their ideas about race, poverty, and place could be reinforced and modified. Second, the project draws attention to the limits of white ally discourse. I argue that even volunteers who saw their work as a form of anti-racist activism struggled to see how their race was important in daily life. When asked how their race might inform interactions with people of color experiencing homelessness, white, “color conscious” volunteers were usually quick to admit that it must. However, they were also unable to say exactly how or provide examples. This inability to speak about interracial interactions, despite many experiences to reflect upon, highlights the pervasive power and privilege embedded in the taken-for-granted nature of whiteness. Although this group displayed strong knowledge of systemic racism and/or antiracism literature, their own whiteness remained “invisible” to them. Third, I argue that perception of, access to, and interaction in nonwhite, urban space was shaped by the privileges and power embedded in volunteers’ social statuses (e.g. white, middle-class). While the slum/poverty tourism literature more frequently explores international tourism and volunteering (e.g., Frenzel 2015; Steinbrink 2012), I repeatedly observed volunteers profess interest in “urban decay” and take photos with such frequency that one volunteer jokingly asked another if she “ever feel[s] like a Japanese tourist.” In these moments, volunteers sought to explore the poverty of their home city in a way few others of their class status would. Through this process, which was observed to be racialized, volunteers emphasized the difference between themselves and those “on the street.”
Issue Date:2020-04-20
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Matthew Jerome Schneider
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-08-26
Date Deposited:2020-05

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