Teresa Gowan is a small English woman who spent over a thousand hours on the streets of San Francisco with homeless people while earning her PhD in Sociology at UC Berkeley. Her thesis, revisited and and reworked, morphed into the now well known ethnographic book, Hobos, Hustlers and Backsliders: homeless in San Francisco. This engaging and compassionate manuscript, part story-part study, introduces a substantial number of poverty stricken and homeless men living hand-to-mouth in the pretty city by the Bay. From panhandlers to recyclers, Gowan brilliantly transposes the multitude of experiences she encounters into a structure of sin-talk, system-talk, and sick-talk, all of which illuminate how the homeless person is deconstructed into a social problem rather than a complex human being. Now an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Gowan continues her research on these pressing social problems in our cities’ urban structure. Last year, upon completion of her book, she gave a talk on homelessness and recycling at Booksmith on Haight Street as part of their Community Forums on homelessness in San Francisco.
I was able to interview Gowan that day about her feelings on poverty, homelessness and the meaning recycling brings to the lives of those who are the least fortunate citizens of our city. Her charitable nature and deep connection to the rituals of life that empower people to feel alive, visible, functional and productive shine through as she talks to us. Gowan does an important job of asking society to re-evaluate itself before evaluating the homeless condition. Hear from her in today’s video taken from an interview I did with her last year at Booksmith.
Many thanks to Christin and Praveen at Booksmith, who organized the community forum and introduced me to Gowan and her groundbreaking work.