Daniel R. Kerr is an associate professor of history at American University, where he also directs the public history program. His work focuses on the methods and ethics of doing collaborative, community-based historical research, especially with those living in extreme poverty. For example, Kerr interviewed nearly 200 homeless people and facilitated dozens of workshops in shelters and drop-in centers where unhoused people could view, reflect upon, and interpret these oral histories. The themes that emerged from these workshops structured the questions and archival research that gave rise to the book, Derelict Paradise: Homelessness and Urban Development in Cleveland (2011). He currently serves on the editorial board for Oral History Review. Seeking to mobilize the humanities, Kerr initiated and directs the DC Humanities Truck Project. The truck—a customized step van that will be completed in summer 2018—will function as a mobile workshop, recording studio, and exhibit space that can be driven around the Washington, DC, metropolitan region to provide resources and equipment to document experiences, start conversations, and share the stories of diverse and underserved communities. Kerr's ongoing project,"Whose Downtown?" will use the truck space as a workshop to reflect on the past and future of the downtown Federal City Shelter, whose demolition and private redevelopment has been proposed for 2021. The project documents the histories of the shelter residents, offering a lens into the social and economic dislocations of the past fifty years. By collaborating in this project, shelter residents will be able to engage more effectively with the planning processes that will dramatically impact their lives.
Focusing on the past fifty years, Daniel Kerr argues that homelessness has deep roots in the shifting ground of urban labor markets, social policy, real estate development, the criminal justice system, and corporate power. Rather than being attributable to the illness and inadequacies of the unhoused themselves, homelessness is a product of both structural and political dynamics shaping the city.