He observes them, creating portraits that are intimate and objective, while breaking down stereotypes and dehumanizing labels often used to describe the homeless. Liebow writes about their daily habits, constant struggles, their humor, compassion and strength.
In 1984 Ellet Liebow, an urban anthroplogist and author of Tally's Corner, an earlier work on Black streetcorner life, left his job at the National Institute of Mental Health and began volunteering at The Refuge, an emergency shelter for homeless women. Elliot became increasingly drawn to these women, spending more and more time in it and other shelters, making notes and getting to know the inhabitants. This book is is the result. Unveiling the problems inherent in the current system of providing for the homeless is only part of the dynamic at work here. Tell Them Who I Am gives real voice to these women and theie stories. They are clearly human beings, and Elliot does nothing to strip them of their dignity or humanity. If any criticism could be made I suppose it might to suggest that Elliot is too close to his subjects. Perhaps this is an apt counter to most of the distancing, impartial-observer accounts of the homeless common to social science texts. There is no feelings of these women as bugs under a microscope. We see their world, as we should, through their eyes.