This book is a compelling analysis that immerses readers in the world of opioid use and homelessness in the United States. Jeff Schonberg and Philippe Bourgois spent more than a decade following a group of nearly two dozen crack addicts and heroin injectors who lived on San Francisco’s sidewalks. When the study for this book was conducted, Edgewater Boulevard and its adjacent urban area served as the focal point. The two writers joined drug addicts in all of their everyday tasks, which included recycling, arson, day work, and panhandling. The people on the streets did this to make money. In addition, this book links stunning photographs with very clear and detailed field notes, dialogues, as well as critical theoretical analysis. It also intertwines the feeling of excitement, anxiety, violence, fun and other banality characteristics associated with homeless and drug addiction life. Its gripping narrative led to developing different characters around various themes such as race relations, violence, family trauma, sexuality, social inequality, power relations and embodied sufferings. The impacts of these themes is the dispassionate accounts of loss, survival, caring and development of economy of sharing that creates a balance between interpersonal betrayal and solidarity. The aim of this research is to enable readers to examine and recognize their personal pre-conceptions concerning the issue of drug addicts and homeless people, as well as to inspire empathy to the reality of their lifestyle.
Schonberg and Bourgois clearly highlighted that regardless of the United States extreme wealth it also generates many homeless people who are drug addicts yearly as a result of inadequate medical services, social-cultural bias which is embedded in the culture and pathogenic law enforcement. The novel exposes clearly the public’s negative disgrace of drug addicts; the authors achieved this through documenting various encounters between non-homeless and homeless people. In addition, the authors took an activist opinion in their writing, and their main argument was based on the fact that drug abuse issue on the streets was not being addressed in a manner that contributed to a solution that could be long-lasting. The authors sated that the homeless people were viewed as social outcasts who were solely accountable for their conditions.
For instance, one addict in the novel named Sonny stated, “If we knew why we were out here, then something could be done. None of us is going to say, “I want to be a dopefiend all my life” ” (Bourgois and Schonberg 2009, 927). Addiction and withdrawal usually goes beyond mental habit and the two are extremely integrated at cellular level. This means that it is very difficult for heroin addicts to stop using it because all their body cells usually crave for opiate proteins so that they can function properly. Consequently, one of the significant attributes of a virtuous dopefiend is to look for heroine through any way possible, so as to avoid occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, also to be in a position to function properly throughout the day.
Despite the fact that, the United States public is aware of the issue of drug abuse and homelessness, they remain satisfied and contented to their daily suffering which is usually generated by various structural forces that leads to increased destructive and violent subjectivities. In other words, the public know clearly that there is a huge problem in their cultural segment but they do not consider the societal factors that have resulted to the problem, thus instead to solving it they blame the victims. The authors stated that, “The lumpen subjectivity of righteous dopefiend that is shared by all the Edgewater homeless embodies the abusive dynamics that permeate all their relationships, including their interactions with individuals, families, institutions, economic forces, labor markets, cultural-ideological values, and ultimately their own selves” (Bourgois and Schonberg 2009, 19).
The lumpen abuse is strongly supported by symbolic violence which is used to vividly describe procedures, laws and actions that result to discrimination of a specific minority groups in the society based on ethnicity, socio-economic standing and gender. Moreover, the novel also stated that the type of health care services homeless and drug addicts received was not equivalent to that given to people outside their lifestyle and that they were frequently treated and viewed as less human beings based on the stigma that was associated with their conditions.
The novel unveils that in most cases healthcare givers dealt with dopefiends’ open wounds without using sedation or painkillers. In addition, the authors stated that the law enforcers mainly focused on assertion and incarceration of authority instead of ensuring their safety “Police sweeps and evictions generally intensified in the fall, around the civic holiday of thanksgiving, at the onset of California’s six month rainy season” (Bourgois and Schonberg 2009, 111). The dopefiend addicts lived in a place known as grey zone where their few belongings could be tattered away without notice. The demeaning and unjust treatments that this people received prove that the moral and virtues of the Americans population is not focused on equality.
Another challenge that the dopefiends faced is how the society influences the way individuals are judged based on their physical appearances. For instance, the dopefiends are easily identified just by looking at them because their intense drug use together with their poor living conditions is usually mapped clearly on their bodies, thus resulting to an emaciated, unhealthy and dirty appearance. The frames of ethnic also play part in skewing these appearances. The authors stated that the Caucasian dopefiends were described as “broken down white bum” while, the dopefiends from black American community were described as “black outlaw” based on their appearances (Bourgois and Schonberg 2009, 87). All these noticeable appearances assisted in solidifying the negative stigma caused by culture, as well as the racist sentiments held in dopefiends’ community.
There are other types of violence experienced by the homeless community living in Edgewater apart from symbolic violence. This is because political, structural, symbolic and everyday violence occurs along a scale and even if the dopefiends are analytically and theoretically aware of all the structural violence caused by the larger communities or institutions and pressures from the society, they continue to believe that their living conditions is the source of their predicaments to a significant percentage. Both Schonberg and Bourgois (2009, 120) believed and argued that all individuals should take responsibility, because the dopefiend community is not singly accountable for the blame that the society imposes on them. They went further to explain that the suffering was as a result of violence embodiment continuum which included various factors ranging from low rehabilitation rates, cultural judgments, to social policies.
Furthermore, to some extent homelessness and drug addict are as a result of 21st century American historical and social conditions. For instance, throughout American history there has been a significant group of people living in conditions that are not ideal. This is supported by the fact that, some written accounts concerning homelessness and drug addiction are evidenced from far back as in middle ages. Many people would think that in the 21st century, everybody should have a roof on their heads. However, this is not the case because millions of people do not have a proper sleeping place. Substance abuse is one of the main reasons that cause homelessness because addicts disrupt their relationships with friends and family (Kertesz, Stefan, et al, 2009, 250). Additionally, drug addiction leads to sucking if the addict is employed mainly because of being ill mannered and failing to respect the set code of ethics. When the addicts start to struggle paying bills, then the exacerbation or onset of an addition can result to losing their house. In other situations, being homeless can result to substance abuse this is because homeless people regularly turn to alcohol and drugs so as to be able to cope with their hard situations. They use drugs in an attempt of attaining short-term relief from their difficult lifestyle. However, in reality substance addiction only intensifies their problems and lower their ability and chances of getting a stable employment to get them out of the streets. Also, some individuals may engage in alcohol and drug abuse so that they can be accepted amongst the homeless community.
The book depicted that majority of the America agencies and institutions mainly focused on capitalism as an alternative of providing proper health care, as well as rehabilitation support needed by the homeless drug addicts so as to prevent the relapsing cycle. However, to the homeless people survival is more essential than personal development and growth, also finding shelter and food take a higher precedence than drug counseling. Even if they do attend the counseling sessions they find it difficult to continue remaining sober while still residing on the streets and with friends who are abusing drugs.
Also majority of the treatment programs advocated by the government mainly focuses on abstinence, which has proven to be less effective because it does not focus on the likelihood of relapse. Symbolic violence is very dominant among homeless individuals because they usually encounter a lot of violence in their daily life, just like the authors stated that, “is an especially useful concept for critiquing homelessness in the United States because most people consider drug use and poverty to be caused by personal character flaws or sinful behavior,” (Bourgois and Schonberg 2009, 17). This proves that the society and religious groups believe that some people should suffer so as to pay for their sins.
In conclusion, since drug abuse is a result and a cause of homelessness, both matters should be addressed simultaneously. This is because availability of stable housing during as well as after treatment usually decreases relapse risk at a very high extent. In other words, reducing or stopping substance abuse alone is inadequate and thus it needs to go hand in hand with supported housing facilities so as to completely stop structural violence. After providing the addicts and homeless people with proper housing the government should promote the following services; physical health care, mental health care, peer support, employment and education opportunities, money management training and daily living skills training (Bender, Kimberly, et al 2010, 150). An effective supported housing program comprises of: engagement and outreach workers, various treatment options to select from, as well as services to enable the addicts to reintegrate into the community. Lastly, the government should ensure that the housing programs they will implement include services that can enable resettled addicts to treat their own addictions so as to re-establish residential stability.
However, the main factors that hinder addicts from being treated are lack of insurance cover and high costs of treatment. Other factors that hinder homeless and addicts from living normal life include: long waiting lists in rehabilitation centres, lack of proper documentation, and lack of transportation. In addition, only few federal programs target and set aside funds to be given to the homeless people; however, some of them do not set funds to assist the addicts who are homeless because they have different needs from their colleagues who are just homeless and not addict. Another, factor that may hinder stopping or reducing the issue of structural violence among drug addicts and homeless people is because some of their needs lack supporting programs and the ones that have those programs they are not reinforced appropriately. Lastly, despite the fact that public health and medical experts agree that the most suitable way of reducing structural violence among homeless people is to treat and prevent relapse of drug addicts; the government insists on punitive approach which instead of reducing it exacerbate the situation.
Bender, Kimberly, et al. “Factors associated with trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder among homeless youth in three US cities: The importance of transience.” Journal of traumatic stress 23.1 (2010): 161-168.
Bourgois, Philippe I., and Jeffrey Schonberg. Righteous dopefiend. Vol. 21. Univ of California Press, 2009.
Kertesz, Stefan G., et al. “Housing first for homeless persons with active addiction: are we overreaching?.” Milbank Quarterly 87.2 (2009): 495-534.