Claim-makers and actors: Advocacy for homeless people in Philadelphia, 1981--2003

This study explores the historical dynamics of homeless advocacy in Philadelphia from 1981 to 2003. It is both a history of the politics of homelessness in Philadelphia and a comparative ethnography of two homeless service provider organizations in which fieldwork was conducted from May 2002 to September 2003. One central theoretical issue addressed in this study is the effect of contracting on third sector organizations. I employ a comparative approach, examining the work of a publicly funded homeless service provider as well the work of a privately funded homeless service provider in order to examine how resource dependencies on the public sector affects the advocacy work that organizations do. This study shows that public sector funding has both direct and indirect effects on homeless advocacy organizations as well as the structure of local advocacy networks. The receipt of public funding leads to a heightened political role for homeless service provider organizations. I also provide a descriptive analysis of the historical development of strong networks between homeless service providers in Philadelphia; these strong networks allow institutionalized homeless service providers to continue to identify as homeless advocates. In order to understand the ability for homeless advocates to manage their unfriendly political and social contexts, this study also examines the collaborative relationships that leading homeless provider organizations have developed with their targets in the public and private sectors. I describe how these relationships are facilitated by leading homeless service provider organizations' strategic self-presentation as necessary and eager partners for policymakers; a self-presentation that leads some providers to mute their claim-making role. However, this strategy is effective and provides access. Structural conditions, particularly the trend towards privatization, allow this frame to be a successful one. My story is one of third sector empowerment and advancement into new areas of political and social life. (Author)

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