This essay discusses geographies of survival and the rights to the city in the milieu of homelessness. It is worth noting that places only left for homeless people are public spaces establishing survival routines. However, their rights to the city are in question because of politicians’ banishment initiatives through legislative embodiments. These ideas are central to my discussion, which the ensuing paragraphs explain.
The geographies of survival describe the spaces and spatial relationships, how people may live or whether they may live, knitted with public and private spaces networks and the social services altogether, especially for poor people like the homeless (Mitchell & Heynen, 2009). Three simultaneous trends perfectly illustrate the restructuring of these geographies of survival: the rise of the automated surveillance system, trespass law innovations, and the criminalization of public food-sharing (Mitchell & Heynen, 2009). This city landscape’s transformation impacted the homeless people’s right to the city.
The rise of the automated video surveillance system, the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, exposes hidden urban interstices for authority easy monitoring. At one point, CCTVs are security cameras, but for whose security or interest is under surveillance? In doing so, the police watch the city’s only place left for the unhoused for everyday survival routines and eventually imposed banishment to disorderly bodies. This system directly deprives basic human necessities such as shelter, food, and public safety, which the government does not provide. Those spaces are everything for homeless individuals – sources of daily sustenance, a space to rest, a dwelling to socialize and interact, a place they consider a home that augments the last strand of their right to live.
The homeless’ right to the city is in limbo. Such a right is superior, embracing rights to freedom, individuation to socialization, habitat, and inhabit (Lefebvre, 1996: 173 cited in Mitchell & Heynen, 2009; Levinsky, 2021). The rights to habitat (a place to make a living) and inhabit (making an area of one’s own or a right to be in a place) are prerequisites of the first two fundamental rights (Mitchell & Heyden, 2009). The unhoused people, impliedly, are excluded from these rights. It demonstrates that they are not part of the city’s making and not to be present: homeless are the city-making debris that needed to be banished for society’s dominant groups’ quality of life. The government and its corresponding agencies that suppose to protect such rights legitimize their actions by innovating the trespass law, exacerbating the homeless’s conditions as society’s modern outcasts.
Legal innovations and criminalization of food-sharing in public intensify the political response of eradicating unhoused people in public spaces in an inhumane manner, an indirect genocidal approach (Mitchell, 1997 cited in Mitchell & Heynen, 2009). This method aims to abolish the deprived, devalued, impoverish subclass group in society in the guise of seeking to eliminate public spaces where homeless people could be. Another obvious way of removing homeless groups in cities is by criminalizing a compassionate act of publicly sharing food, accusing activists of civil disobedience. Public food-sharing is one source of sustenance for homeless people aside from scavenging in dumpsters, and criminalizing generous people has a significant impact on them. This criminalization is a kind of public discourse or social construct that feeding the hungry is not a good act – a crime of good deeds, killing underprivileged people of hunger.
They are all together, understanding homelessness as a consequence of socio-economic force, which people have no way to be reflexive and could not abide by its requirements. Still, homeless people are part of human society who need support to regain the quality of life lost through harsh societal surroundings; institutional support and available social services play significant roles. Therefore, I agree with Levinsky’s (2021) assessment that criminalization is incomplete to understand homeless people. Criminalization only sees homelessness’s superficial side, wherein by-laws infractions for survival envelop the erroneous rationale of unhoused conditions that the politicians do not perceive.
Further, criminalizing homeless youths limits or even bars them from accessing education, health services, and employment to rebuild their potentials in moving away from homelessness (Quirouette et al., 2016). Instead of criminalizing the homeless, specifically homeless youths, the government must change how it perceives the homeless’ situations, focusing on funding more accessible social services and creates opportunities to alleviate them from a shortage in life, instead of implementing exorbitant banishment mechanisms.
Levinsky, Z. (March 2, 2021). Criminalization of Homelessness. Trent University-Durham Synchronous Lecture on Sociological Perspectives on Homelessness.
Mitchell, D. & Heynen, N. (2009). The Geography of Survival and the Right to the City: Speculations on Surveillance, Legal Innovation, and the Criminalization Intervention. Urban Geography, 30:6, 611-632. DOI: 10.2747/0272-36220.127.116.111
Quirouette, M., et al. (2016). “Conflict with the Law”: Regulation and Homeless Youth Trajectories Toward Stability. Canadian Journal of Law and Society. Cambridge University Press, New York, USA. Vol. 31: 383-404.