Elliot Liebow’s groundbreaking novel entitled Tell Them Who I Am is one that helps to paint a clear picture of the lives of homeless women, and even homeless people in general. Liebow presents the trials that face homeless women in their daily life and in all other aspects of their life from their daily life and their ability to work to personal things like how their friends, family, and religion fit into the equation.
Elliot Liebow, at the age of 58, after being diagnosed with cancer and being told he didn’t have long to live, retired from his job as an anthropologist and started volunteering at a local soup kitchen. With plenty of time on his hands and a want to do more, he also volunteered at a shelter for homeless women. It was here that he started socializing with the women and taking a real interest in their stories and what they go through on a day to day basis. He started taking casual notes about they told him, with their permission of course, and later collected their life stories and really got a feel for their plight. This is how he got all of his information.
Tell Them is a prime example of participant observation. Someone with no real knowledge of the struggles of homeless women prior to his volunteer work became immersed in their lives and was able to write a book about them. His goal with this book was to write an honest description of shelter life, while also explaining how the women could remain so human while being faced with such inhuman conditions. He really approaches the subject with the perspective of a conflict sociologist. Having experienced first-hand what the women feel and have to deal with, he knows that a change in the way things happen for these women, and all others in the same situation, is necessary.
When really looking at the title, it points to the way that most people tend to pigeonhole homeless people into a certain category and stereotype them as though they’re all the same. The ho...