Next Door But Invisible: The World of Homelessness and Drug Addiction

Penn medical anthropologist Philippe Bourgois and UC grad student Jeff Schonberg study the lives of homeless heroin addicts in San Francisco.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

By Peter Nichols

For over a decade, medical anthropologist Philippe Bourgois and his grad student Jeff Schonberg studied the lives of homeless heroin addicts as they scrambled to survive on the streets of San Francisco. Bourgois, the Richard Perry University Professor, has written extensively about drugs, violence, labor migration, ethnic conflict and urban poverty. To compile the research for their book, Righteous Dopefiend, Bourgois and Schonberg hung out with heroin injectors and crack smokers—listening and talking to them, observing how they live, photographing them and sometimes sleeping in their encampments. “In doing the fieldwork,” Bourgois says, “it was almost too hard to believe what we were seeing—a community of homeless drug users exists just yards away from major thoroughfares, but it remains invisible to people who pass by everyday. You only have to step down an alley, go behind a bush and—boom!—a universe of poverty and addiction opens up right in front of you.”

In this audio slide show of photos taken by Schonberg, Bourgois talks about this invisible world just next door.

WARNING: Graphic images may be offensive to some viewers.