FYS-198 Tryin' to find a Way Back Home: Introduction to Literature of Homelessness in America

Instructor: Chairperson/Professor Christopher Richard Fee
Department: English

Course Description:
"Homelessness" is a term that conjures up unsavory images in the popular imagination, flat, generic, cliches that owe as much to fear as to fact. The truth is that children account for a shocking proportion of the homeless in America today, as do women fleeing abuse, as do the working poor, many of whom find it impossible to secure affordable housing in many of our cities. If working men and women and school-attending children number among the homeless, why do the stereotypes of the pushy panhandler and the drunken skid-row bum continue to dominate our collective vision of homelessness? Why does this population continue to grow? What can be done to alleviate the circumstances surrounding homelessness in America? Should we act? Should we care? Designed in collaboration with the Center for Public Service, this course combines the traditional academic component with experiential education through a number of Service-Learning opportunities. Each student will participate in regular service commitments in the local community throughout the semester, and the keystone of the course will be a four-day group Service-Learning trip over the October Reading Days. This trip will be based at N-Street Village at Luther Place in Washington, D.C., and will draw upon very long and well-established relationships between Gettysburg College and N-Street, D.C. Central Kitchen, The National Coalition for the Homeless, the Congressional Hunger Center, Martha?s Table, DC Outfitters, and a host of other service organizations based in Washington. Indeed, a number of Gettysburg alumni work or have worked at some of these organizations, and the class will have the opportunity to serve with a number of members of the Washington Alumni Association over the course of the weekend. Most importantly, we will meet and work with many people who are or who have been homeless, as well as quite a few who have dedicated their lives to serving those less fortunate than themselves. If experience is any guide, we will like a great many of the people with whom we will come into contact; we most certainly will learn from all of them. In the classroom portion of this course we will study materials from a number of non-fiction texts, organizational websites, popular newspapers and magazines; moreover, we will read a number of memoirs and novels that are concerned with homelessness and related issues, and we will view a number of relevant films. These more literary materials may prove especially useful in transcending the comfort barrier most affluent Americans have learned to construct between ?us? and ?them,? between those who enjoy security and privilege and those who do not. One of the most potent powers of literature is the portal it offers us into another time, place, or consciousness; through such a gateway we may begin the long journey towards understanding and empathizing with those who are (or seem!) different. Literature also reflects a culture?s sense of itself, of what it values, and of what it fears. Thus, we will study portrayals of homelessness in popular works of fiction and film in order to refine our understanding of how the American understanding of homelessness has evolved since the Great Depression. Some of these works will reflect common assumptions about the homeless while others may challenge such views, but all will contribute to our understanding of how we as a people face the realities of poverty, homelessness, and social inequities.