Emergency shelters have been the most comprehensive and enduring response to homelessness in the United States, with New York City leading the way since the early 1980s. Shelters have emerged as a hybrid between a degraded type of "public housing" and a new form of "institutionalization." The persistence of shelter dependency, or "shelterization," is an intractable problem that frustrates policymakers and service providers. Popular among certain circles of professional pathologists is the view that shelterization is a form of "adaptation" to the violent, anomic, and generally antisocial environment of the shelter. This explanation of shelter dependency is theoretically flawed and intentionally leads to suspect practices because it inverts the causal connection between structural arrangements and individual behavior. Following Goffman, this article exposes the institutional origin of the pathologies that are usually attributed to homeless people as self-inflicted. The obstacles that prevent homeless people from rejoining the mainstream are the effects of a state of captivity, not the symptoms of a disease.



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