Christopher Jencks, The Homeless (Harvard University Press, 1994)
Reissued in paperback by Harvard in 1995.
When homelessness was proclaimed a national crisis in the 1980's, many journalists took to the streets, creating Orwellian images of the poor in the hopes of evoking cultural change. So it becomes rather obvious, while reading The Homeless, that author Christopher Jencks conducted his research not in shelters or the streets, but from the comfort of his office. His book does not feature individual stories (there is only one homeless person quoted, from another author's research) but instead culls the facts collected in eight such accounts to create a broad analysis of the causes of the crisis.
Jencks' writing, though heavy on statistics and occasionally weighed down by its national scope, succeeds in building a rational, apportioned examination of how homelessness increased during the 1980's and in explaining the reasons for this growth. Ably weaving along the line separating homeless advocates and skeptical politicians, he challenges the supposition that full-time employment, permanent shelter, and the involuntary commitment of the mentally ill are the most pragmatic methods of allowing the homeless to become financially independent. While carefully considering the complicated needs that face families, substance abusers, and the mentally unstable, he demonstrates his own infallibility by acknowledging that census information and sociological research occasionally lapses, and therefore makes parts of his analysis incomplete.
In The Homeless, Jencks does not attempt journalism, though arguably he could: he was an editor at the New Republic from 1961-63, and is currently a member of the editorial board of the American Prospect. He instead builds a foundation for journalists and sociologists as they study homelessness in the future. These efforts, as well as his proposed strategies for enacting social programs to aid the poor, serve to create a sensible policy solution to poverty.
Jencks is currently the Malcom Weiner Professor of Social Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He has taught at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and at UC Santa Barbara. His other books include The Academic Revolution (with David Riesman); Inequality, Who Gets Ahead?; The Urban Underclass (with Paul Peterson); Rethinking Social Policy; and The Black White Test Score Gap (with Meredith Phillips).
Christopher Jencks Homepage at Harvard University
The New York Review of Books Author Bibliography: Christopher Jencks