Street Moves: Management of Spoiled Identity in the Subculture of Alaska Native Street People.
The focus of this paper is on a small group of Alaska Native men and women referred to locally as "street people". These individuals have spent much of their lives as public inebriates living on the street in a distinct subculture. Many of them had their street "rite of passage" by drinking on the street when they were in their early teens. They are now the visible, chronic, public inebriates recognized and known on the street by those who interact with them on a daily basis (e.g. police, bartenders, shopkeepers, shelter providers, etc.). These individuals are generally thought to be a major nuisance, they are considered obnoxious, dirty, aggressive, and abusive. For shopkeepers in the area, they are a distinct economic liability for they often steal merchandise and keep tourists away from their places of business by drunkenness and panhandling (begging). These individuals are the streets' pariahs. These social outcasts are considered spoiled goods by everyone with whom they come in contact. They are the untouchables of our society, they are the "Outsiders" of Camus (1946)and Merton (1968), Goffman's "stigmatized" (1963), and Snow and Anderson's "traditional bums" (1993). They survive on the street through a variety of mechanisms. This paper will focus on three major ways in which these individuals maintain their self-esteem and enable them to survive in this hostile environment. These adaptive techniques are: 1) periodic maintenance of family ties, 2) social interaction with other street people, 3) preservation of relations with some social service providers. These adaptations enable street people to manage their lives in a very dangerous geographic and social environment
Keywords: Alaska Natives, Homelessness, Public Inebriation, Symbolic Interaction
Dr. Gerry Tierney
Associate Professor, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Webster University