Criminalizing the Homeless

Years ago, I remember hearing about what I now know as hostile architecture. Hostile architecture is when a public space is designed to bar people from using it in ways in which it wasn’t originally intended to be used. It’s associated with a variety of behaviors like skateboarding, littering, loitering, but most notably homelessness.  When I first read about it, I was unsure of its validity as something that actually happens in cities– it seemed so grotesque and unrealistic, especially since I think I first saw it on tumblr (things like this tend to get blown out of proportion on tumblr). But it’s very real. In fact, hostile architecture has gained the nickname “anti-homeless spikes.”

I was reminded of these anti-homeless spikes when I read the section about Amy’s death in Butler’s Parable. Lauren states how Amy’s family wants to “sick” the cops on the homeless in order to find Amy’s killer and she points out, “It’s illegal to cap out on the streets the way they do [the homeless]– the way they must– so the cops knock them around, rob them if they have anything worth stealing, then order them away or jail them. The miserable will be made even more miserable.” I immediately thought of those jarring stories about violent architecture intended to keep away homeless individuals that I read about long ago, so I decided to look into it.

I found a several articles that focused around the homelessness of Sarasota, Florida, dubbed “America’s Meanest City” due to its increasing legislation imposed on homeless people. This article states that the city of Sarasota suffers from chronic homelessness–its average is six times that of the national average.  While many of these individuals suffer from addiction (according to the article, about a quarter to half of them do), many also have been victims of the economy who have families and children to think about.  Instead of creating laws to help the homeless the laws seem more like an attempt to cover it up and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Our conversation about shelter and how we think about it when we don’t have any was on my mind as I did some research. The homeless seek shelter and help where they can find it– public transportation, on a bench under a tree with maybe a real blanket or one made of newspapers, on the sidewalk under an awning, in cars, panhandling on the streets, etc. Legislation in Sarasota has made these exact things– things that people need to do for basic human survival— illegal. Essentially, making it illegal to be homeless. The homelessness are fined, jailed, pushed even further out of the “normal realm” of everyday human existence, quite similar to how the cops in Parable “rob [the homeless] if they have anything worth stealing, then order them away or jail them.”

Two more articles with some interesting information on the anti-homeless legislation in Sarasota that I used for this blog post can be found here and here.

Response to the article in Pam’s “Housing Loss: The Grief and Other Losses”

Original post here.

The article shared by Pam really got me thinking about the blame and lack of control felt when one is involuntarily pushed into homelessness. In Pagliarini’s attempt to explain how “learned helplessness” is an eventual learned symptom of being poor in America, he undermines the real issues at hand and continues the endless cycle of blaming the poor for being poor. In effect, he’s labeling the victims of systematic violence as the actual origin of this violence because they haven’t taken a hold of their own “control” yet.

The thing is, people who have fallen victim to foreclosure and homelessness really don’t have a lot of room to exercise their own control and agency. The mindset that these people have merely “given up” as a result of endless financial strains is problematic.

Despite Pagliarini’s attempt to set his article outside of the “Get Rich Quick” mentality, it ends up being exactly that. His article is riddled with a white privilege perspective with some classist ideals sprinkled in here and there. If we were to shove this article into Lelah Turner’s hands and say “Alright, here’s the answer to your problems. Get going!” she would laugh our face. It almost reminds me of the pee scene in The Turner House when Cha-Cha realizes the kind of life he is “destined” to live. From Cha-Cha’s perspective, as a black boy growing up in Detroit it’s as if his agency had been inherently taken away from him from day one.  Ideas like “Get Perspective!” and “Achieve Success” are unrealistic and problematic to advise to people like Cha-Cha or Lelah (Cha-Cha being a black man and Lelah being homeless, both under their own kind of systematic pressure) because they haven’t had the same set of opportunities laid out for them.