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Skid Road

On the Frontier of Health and Homelessness in an American City

Josephine Ensign

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A compelling look at the historical roots of poverty and homelessness, the "worthy" and "unworthy" poor, and the role of charity health care and public policy in the United States.

Home to over 730,000 people, with close to four million people living in the metropolitan area, Seattle has the third-highest homeless population in the United States. In 2018, an estimated 8,600 homeless people lived in the city, a figure that does not include the significant number of "hidden" homeless people doubled up with friends or living in and out of cheap hotels. In Skid Road, Josephine Ensign digs through…

A compelling look at the historical roots of poverty and homelessness, the "worthy" and "unworthy" poor, and the role of charity health care and public policy in the United States.

Home to over 730,000 people, with close to four million people living in the metropolitan area, Seattle has the third-highest homeless population in the United States. In 2018, an estimated 8,600 homeless people lived in the city, a figure that does not include the significant number of "hidden" homeless people doubled up with friends or living in and out of cheap hotels. In Skid Road, Josephine Ensign digs through layers of Seattle history—past its leaders and prominent citizens, respectable or not—to reveal the stories of overlooked and long-silenced people who live on the margins of society.

The sometimes fragmentary tales of these people, their lives and deaths, are not included in official histories of a place. How, Ensign asks, has a large, socially progressive city like Seattle responded to the health needs of people marginalized by poverty, mental illness, addiction, racial/ethnic/sexual identities, and homelessness? Drawing on interviews and extensive research, Ensign shares a diversity of voices within contemporary health care and public policy debates.

Informed by her own lived experience of homelessness, as well as over three decades of work as a family nurse practitioner providing primary health care to homeless people, Ensign is uniquely situated to explore the tensions between caregiving and oppression, as well as charity and solidarity, that polarize perspectives on homelessness throughout the country. A timely story in light of the ongoing health care reform debate, the affordable housing crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the stories from Skid Road illuminate issues surrounding poverty and homelessness throughout America.

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Skid Road

Josephine Ensign

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Reviews

Ensign's Skid Road exposes the entrenched roots of our contemporary crisis. She reveals how physical, visible sites of destitution — and the misery they contain — have long been features of Seattle's landscape: shantytowns, the sprawling Hooverville, tent encampments, tiny villages, shelters, doorways, abandoned homes, vehicles, rundown RVs. She then humanizes this topography by adding flesh and bone and heart to some of the homeless people who have experienced it.

Ensign's novel unearths the layers of Seattle history underlying our current housing crisis. Centering long-silenced perspectives of those in the margins of society, the provocative read is informed by Ensign's own lived experience of homelessness and over three decades of her work providing primary health care to unhoused populations.

Timely, unique, and important. I have never read a book quite like this one. A gifted writer, Ensign uses narrative history to reveal various intersectionalities and tensions in the machine of structural and systemic inequities, oppression, violence, and trauma. Her storytelling touches on racism, sexism, xenophobia, colonialism, and religion as historical contributors to the live, undulating city of Seattle we have today. History buffs, especially Seattle ones, will find it irresistible.

Josephine Ensign has written an important and provocative book. Her Skid Road explores the intersection of history, health, poverty, private charity, and public policy in Seattle with compassion and common sense. Ensign's work is essential reading for every citizen, medical practitioner, policy-maker, and social equity advocate, untangling the 'wicked problem' of homelessness with anger and hope.

An informative and intriguing examination of the history of homelessness in Seattle. Skid Road provides critical context on the myriad issues—racism, sexism, substance abuse, mental illness, and more—that perpetuate cycles of poverty and homelessness in the region. A must-read for policy-makers, advocates, service providers, and anyone seeking to understand the roots of homelessness.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
312
ISBN
9781421440132
Illustration Description
10 plates
Table of Contents

Prologue. One Woman's Seattle
Chapter 1. Brother's Keeper
Chapter 2. Skid Road
Chapter 3. The Sisters
Chapter 4. Ark of Refuge
Chapter 5. Shacktown
Chapter 6. Threshold
Chapter 7. State of Emergency
Epilogue

Prologue. One Woman's Seattle
Chapter 1. Brother's Keeper
Chapter 2. Skid Road
Chapter 3. The Sisters
Chapter 4. Ark of Refuge
Chapter 5. Shacktown
Chapter 6. Threshold
Chapter 7. State of Emergency
Epilogue. Hearing Voices
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Josephine Ensign
Featured Contributor

Josephine Ensign, RN, DrPH

Josephine Ensign is a professor in the School of Nursing and an adjunct professor in the Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington. She is the author of Catching Homelessness: A Nurse's Story of Falling through the Safety Net and Soul Stories: Voices from the Margins.