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Homelessness & Marginalization

A guide intended to aid research relating to homelessness and marginalization, and related topics, mainly within the greater Chicago area. This guide will be updated in accordance with CHM's ongoing critical cataloging efforts.

The material in CHM collections may contain offensive language or negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record. The Chicago History Museum has an institution-wide initiative to critically consider the language used to describe people and materials, and we invite you to read more about our related projects.

Overview of the Guide

The complexities of homelessness and marginalization are tied to every aspect of society – resource access, housing, education, healthcare, infrastructure, social and legal policies, and more. This LibGuide is not intended to be an exhaustive exploration of  homelessness and marginalization. Instead, the LibGuide is meant as an introduction to terminology uses and changes over time, how these topics appear within our research collections, and the historical context in which the records, documents, and materials were created. This guide also documents the critical cataloging efforts around the use of authorized and local subject headings and the impact on individuals and communities. 

Intersecting Issues

There are many stereotypes and myths associated with homelessness, in part because there are misunderstandings about the complicated factors that result in individuals and families struggling to acquire and maintain housing. According to Ryan Dowd, former Executive Director of Hesed House, a large homeless shelter outside Chicago, homelessness is not caused only by a lack of housing, but also a lack of resources and support upon which a person or family can depend in a time of crisis, such as job loss, eviction, abuse, pandemic, substance use, or severe illness. Homelessness can take many different forms. There are temporary cases where a person works through a situational crisis, episodic homelessness where a primary obstacle impacts stability, and chronic homelessness where multiple issues compound each other (Dowd, 2018).

Due to intersecting factors, certain communities are more at risk than others. The housing and real estate industry has a long history of systemic racism, excluding people of color from real estate markets and devaluing homes and neighborhoods. Children, minors, and college youth might be able to find temporary accommodations with friends or at college housing, but these situations are not always stable nor sustainable. Individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community are at risk due to discrimination. Immigrants also face discrimination and often do not have established social networks while navigating new physical, cultural, and bureaucratic environments. Overall, a lack of affordable housing, underemployment, rising costs of living, and structural marginalization of communities through restricted access to health care, nutritious foods, education, and municipal resources all exacerbate the challenges of maintaining permanent, safe, housing.

See our Resources page for more information about intersecting issues.

The CHM Research Collection contains resources that address different types of housing insecurity from the late nineteenth century through the twenty-first century. Materials cover the city of Chicago, Cook County, and the metropolitan region. Depending on the resource, topics are explored alongside other contributing factors such as hunger, city policies, infrastructure changes and developments, immigration, public services, gentrification, and discrimination. Collections range from the records of relief and social service organizations to newsletters and report publications, to interviews and imagery.

See the CHM and Other Resources tab for more information.