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In 'Families on the Edge,' Dartmouth professor chronicles homelessness in the Upper Valley

Eli Burakian, Dartmouth College, Courtesy
The Upper Valley is home to families who struggle to keep housing, despite their proximity to the wealth of places like Dartmouth College.

The Upper Valley is an unusual place, Elizabeth Carpenter-Song writes in her new book about rural poverty. It has a Ivy League college, an academic medical center and high-income and highly-educated workers — but also relies on community members in low-income service sector jobs who cannot afford market rent. Or as she puts it: “a peculiar confluence of deep poverty and extraordinary privilege."

To tell some of the stories of families experiencing homelessness in this region, Carpenter-Song — a research associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College — kept in touch for years with families she met at a local shelter in 2009.

The resulting book is Families on the Edge: Experiences of Homelessness and Care in Rural New England.

"My goal in this work is really to take readers into experiences that often remain hidden, to go beneath the surface, to move beyond stereotypes and simplicities that that often come into play when we think about homelessness, or housing-related problems," Carpenter-Song said on Vermont Edition. "And to really foreground the complex and often very deeply painful lived realities of homelessness and housing insecurity for families within our regions and communities."

Carpenter-Song said Vermont's emergency motel housing program during the pandemic was an example of people responding creatively to the need — as are models such as supportive co-housing and adding accessory dwelling units while working toward long-term affordable housing.

"The pandemic stripped away, I think, many of the assumptions that homelessness and housing insecurity are are these kinds of intractable, inevitable problems," Carpenter-Song said.

Broadcast at noon Monday, Aug. 28, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Tedra worked on Vermont Edition as a producer and editor from 2022 to 2024.