Posted in gentrification, homelessness, marginalization, urban studies

Derelict Paradise: Homelessness and Urban Development in Cleveland, Ohio

Kerr, Daniel R. Derelict Paradise: Homelessness and Urban Development in Cleveland, Ohio. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011.

“Who benefits from homelessness?” is the driving question in this book. Kerr rejects commonly held beliefs that mental illness, deinstitutionalization, and addiction play significant roles in homelessness. Instead, in his case study of Cleveland, Ohio, he reveals a long history of demeaning social welfare policies, unfair labor practices, and misguided slum clearance programs. Kerr examines the decisions that were made by politicians, urban planners, social reformers and business leaders, and how these decisions affected the size and composition of the homeless population in Cleveland, Ohio, from the late 1800s until recently. He connects the transformation of downtown Cleveland into “one of the greatest playgrounds in the world” to the rise in homelessness (106). He also reveals how private social service agencies, community development corporations, and the liberal Emergency Shelter Coalition “colluded” with elites to reinstitutionalize dreaded homeless shelters (201). Kerr documents a rich history of organized resistance by and everyday survival strategies of people at the margins. These people were able to disrupt the grand plans crafted by the powerful to transform the institutions that were designed to restrict the lives of the homeless.

Like Banished, Derelict Paradise concentrates on a case study to show how urban development and gentrification exacerbates the homeless problem. Whereas Banished focuses on the legal strategies city officials apply to keep undesirables away from certain public spaces, Derelict Paradise offers insight into the people and businesses that benefit from creating and maintaining poverty-stricken communities. It also reveals the agency of these marginalized communities fighting to achieve and maintain dignity.