Date of Completion


Degree Type

Honors Thesis


Political Science (POLS)

First Advisor

Andrew Dilts


The pervasion of "personal choice" and "personal responsibility" language in research on homelessness is incorrect and damaging because it causes us to look at homelessness as the result of the personal flaws and failings of those who experience it, instead of as a societal structure that leads some people to be precariously housed and others to be better able to overcome obstacles such as mental illness and losing a job. This assumption of personal responsibility falsely portrays homelessness as something that everyone is equally at risk of experiencing and ignores alternate accounts of responsibility that would call into question our current policies. I take up the experience of homelessness from the point of view of those who experience it directly in order to retheorize responsibility and examine root causes of poverty and homelessness on Los Angeles’ “Skid Row.” Based on interviews with people who reside or have resided within Skid Row, I take up how respondents—as themselves theorists of their own experience—understand responsibility both in the abstract and in terms of their own situation. I turn to them to identify institutional improvements and changes in societal norms that could alleviate the problem, and offer new conceptions of responsibility that can be used to rethink policy directives and how we do research on homelessness. I develop an account of responsibility that allows us to rethink conditions that perpetuate cycles of chronic homelessness and critique institutions and systems that fail to take responsibility for their role in preventing individuals from rising out of Skid Row. By incorporating theories of homelessness and responsibility from homeless individuals themselves, I lay out a new way of looking at who or what is responsible for homelessness in order for society to address the problem differently.