Eric Weissman has been studying homelessness, mental health and addictions in Canadian and US cities since 1999. In recovery from drugs and episodic homelessness for almost 21 years, he is well familiar with the difficulty people have when trying to find and keep safe and stable housing.
His work began in tent camps and shantytowns like Toronto’s Tent City, which was the subject of his film, “Subtext-real stories”. He lived for a short time at Dignity Village Oregon, the first legal shantytown in US history, and the main site for his dissertation fieldwork. His work is comparative and critical. He looks at the provisions that make a range of housing possibilities, from Housing First to Shantytowns, which he calls Intentional Homeless Communities, feasible in the context of widespread homelessness in North American cities.
He uses photos video and visual elicitation practices to understand the narratives impacting how social policies are designed, experienced and critiqued. His work is a form of community based critical and pragmatic ethnography that asks stakeholders of various kinds in the areas of housing, homelessness, mental health and addictions, “ how do you see the world, and how might you change it?”
After completing his PhD in 2014, he was a visiting scholar at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Institute For the Medical Humanities, where he led two graduate courses in critical ethnography and narrative communities and worked with community health practitioners in Houston and Galveston. In 2015 he was sessional faculty member in Sociology at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George. Currently he lives in Toronto. He is Principal Investigator in a critical ethnography of the Di Pede Residences, a supportive housing community operated by WoodGreen and Fife House. He is lead researcher on the Safe At Home Project for the Dream Team (Houselink), which looks the issue of housing unit takeovers by drug traffickers in Toronto.
His first book, Dignity in Exile, tales of struggle and hope from a modern American shantytown (Exile; 2012) is a public ethnography that introduces people to that important community. His forthcoming book, Tranquility on the Razor’s Edge (Rock’s Mill’s Press; Autumn 2016) offers a critical examination of his dissertation research and the increasing role intentional communities like tent camps and emergency rest areas are playing in cities across North America. He argues that dominant narratives about deserving and undeserving character inflect our expectations and rules about how to use city spaces and what kinds of housing are acceptable. There is a certain narrative inevitability in the stories we learn and then tell ourselves to make sense of social problems, and this inevitability must be addressed before any real change can occur.
Eric Weissman Ph.D. (2014, Concordia University Special Individualized Programs – Social Sciences.
2014 Canadian Association of Graduate Studies Distinguished Dissertation Awardee in the Arts, Humanities and Social Science.