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An international account of homelessness, comparing Berlin and Los Angeles and the possibility of exiting homelessness in each city

Down and Out in Los Angeles and Berlin

The Sociospatial Exclusion of Homeless People

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Jürgen von Mahs

"Placing an emphasis on policy impacts and implementation at the urban scale, von Mahs’s approach of looking at issues of homelessness in the context of comparing two federal entities—Germany and the United States—is unique. His insights—the result of in-depth investigation—make Down and Out in Los Angeles and Berlin very thought-provoking."
Fran Klodawsky, Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University

Los Angeles, California, and Berlin, Germany, have been dubbed "homeless capitals" for having the largest homeless populations of their respective countries. In Down and Out in Los Angeles and Berlin, Jürgen von Mahs provides an illuminating comparative analysis of the impact of social welfare policy on homelessness in these cities. He addresses the opportunity of people to overcome—or "exit"—homelessness and shows why Berlin, despite its considerable social and economic investment for assisting its homeless, has been almost as unsuccessful as Los Angeles.

Drawing on fascinating ethnographic insights, von Mahs shows how homeless people in both cities face sociospatial exclusion-legal displacement for criminal activities, poor shelters in impoverished neighborhoods, as well as market barriers that restrict reintegration. Providing a necessary wake-up call, Down and Out in Los Angeles and Berlin addresses the critical public policy issues that can produce effective services to improve homeless people's chances to end their homelessness once and for all.

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Excerpt

Read the Preface (pdf).

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Reviews

"The comparative analysis undertaken here is unique in the literature and will make a significant contribution to the field. There are relatively few studies looking at these pervasive issues of homelessness, space, and exclusion from a cross-cultural perspective. This framing in and of itself is potentially very important to enhancing our understanding of these complex issues. Von Mahs’s accessible writing, the richness of the data presented in the cases, and his cogent analysis make Down and Out in Los Angeles and Berlin a timely, important, and compelling ethnographic inquiry and policy-oriented analysis."
Randall Amster, Executive Director, the Peace & Justice Studies Association, and Chair, Master's Program in Humanities, Prescott College

"The book is notable for its comparative analysis as well as for its in-depth ethnographic approach, which yields many insightful observations from homeless persons themselves. Summing Up: Highly recommended."
Choice

"[A] thoughtful account of the impact of public policy on homeless people and their prospects of escaping homelessness.... Mahs has produced a well-researched book that offers a unique insight into homeless peoples’ lives in Berlin in the 1990s and thus will surely contribute to a more balanced debate about the geographies of homelessness beyond US cities."
Urban Studies

"Jürgen von Mahs offers an integrative framework for reconciling a multitude of compounding factors that undergird protracted homelessness.... The book is driven by a compelling empirical puzzle.... von Mahs is successful in providing a systematic, though concise, explanation of Berlin homelessness while capturing the humanity and agency of his informants.... The Berlin case study will be a welcome addition to sociology, geography, and political science courses on homelessness and urban inequality more generally. The book will be especially useful for advocates and social service providers for improving their own work and communicating with policy makers about precisely how official homeless policies unfold on the ground."
American Journal of Sociology

"Through fascinating presentation and analysis of this qualitative data, and with reference to Los Angeles, von Mahs thoroughly investigates the deficiencies of the Berlin welfare system and its failure to address the various forms of exclusion which underpin homelessness.... The book offers a robust theoretical framework for analysis of homelessness, using the concepts of legal, service and market exclusion as three dimensions of socio-spatial exclusion.... Overall, the book is very well written and offers its readers an extremely useful theoretical and ethnographic framework to unpack the complexity of the socio-spatial exclusion of homeless people."
Housing Studies

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Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Commonly Used Abbreviations
1. Different Welfare Regimes, Similar Outcomes? The Impact of Public Policy on Homeless People's Exit Chances in Berlin and Los Angeles
2. Homeless Spaces, Homeless Lives: Using Ethnography to Assess Homeless People's Life Courses and Exit Chances in Berlin
3. Not Allowed: Legal Exclusion, Human Rights, and Global Capital
4. Not Wanted: Containment, Warehousing, and Service Exclusion
5. Not Needed: Market Exclusion, Exit Strategies, and the Specter of Neoliberalism
6. Sociospatial Exclusion of Homeless People: Comparative Perspective Postscript
Appendix 1: Biographical Sketches of Respondents in Berlin
Appendix 2: Key Informants
Notes
References
Index

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About the Author(s)

Jürgen von Mahs is Assistant Professor, Department of Urban Studies, The New School in New York City.

Subject Categories

Urban Studies
Geography
Political Science and Public Policy

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