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
Search the full text of this book
Jürgen von Mahs
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.
"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."
"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."
"[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."
"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."
"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."
"This book examines differences in policies and programs that impact people who are homeless in Los Angeles and Berlin.... von Mahs argues that there was already sufficient existing research to investigate the factors operating in Los Angeles, but not in Berlin.... There is no doubt that this book arose from the author's passionate commitment to addressing homelessness. It is well written and interesting."
"This book compares Berlin and Los Angeles, the 'homeless capitals' of Germany and the United States. The comparison is appropriate as both countries have a good deal of devolved local authority, but with differences in social welfare regimes....To unravel this puzzle, von Mahs conducted ethnographic research and interviews.... For a more nuanced explanation, the author draws attention to the variation in experiences of homelessness.... von Mahs maintains that Germany’s more comprehensive system of social assistance is superior to the fragmented, ideologically thorny situation in the US."
Jürgen von Mahs is Associate Professor of Urban Studies at The New School in New York City.