Mass Homeless Encampments
"The New Logics of Homeless Seclusion: A Comparative Study of Homeless Encampments in the Western United States.” City and Community, 13(4), 285-309. 2014.
Since the late 1990s, scores of American cities have witnessed the re-emergence of large-scale homeless encampments for the first time since the Great Depression. Commonly portrayed as rooted in the national economic downturn and functionally undifferentiated, this paper demonstrates that large-scale encampments are rather shaped by urban policies and serve varied and even contradictory roles in different localities. Drawing on interviews and observations in 12 encampments in eight municipalities, this study reveals four distinctive socio-spatial functions of encampments shaped by administrative strategies of city officials and adaptive strategies of campers. I demonstrate how large-scale encampments paradoxically serve as both tools of containing homeless populations for the local state and preferred safe grounds for those experiencing homelessness. The paper concludes with a discussion on the implications of homeless seclusion for social analysis and policy, arguing that exclusion and seclusion are two sides of the same coin of the management of marginality in the American city.
“The Roots and Implications of the United States’ Homeless Tent Cities.” with Manuel Lutz. City, 19 (5). 2015.
Since the turn of the 21st century several US cities have witnessed the resurgence of large-scale homeless encampments. This paper explains how and why such encampments emerged during a period of national economic expansion through a comparative study of encampments in Fresno, California and Seattle, Washington. Contrary to the widespread media coverage of tent cities as a consequence of the most recent recession, the paper argues they are instead rooted in penal and welfare urban policies. Precipitating as both protest and containment, durable encampments relieve the fiscal and legitimation crises of criminalization and shelterization for the local state and simultaneously function as preferred safe-grounds to the shelter for homeless people in both cities. Rather than contradicting the existing policies and theories of the ongoing punitive exclusion of marginalized populations, the seclusion of the homeless into large encampments complements its goals of managing marginality across the city.
“Tent City, America” Places Journal. December, 2015.
A synoptic overview of mass homeless encampments in the United States and their relationship to urban economy, politics, and policy from the mid 19th century to the present.
“Evicting the Evicted: Five Misleading Rationales of Homeless Camp Evictions.” Progressive Planning. Fall, 2015.
Despite being tolerated long enough by authorities to amass dozens and even hundreds of homeless individuals, most mass homeless encampments in the US are eventually evicted – whereby local police forces along with legions of public work employees forcibly remove those who have already been evicted from the private spaces of the real estate market. Drawing on a comparative analysis of field observations and statements by public officials of evictions in five California cities this brief commentary outlines the five common justifications made by officials for eviction and establishes their fallacy each through the empirical outcomes of “camp clearance.”''
“Four Fallacies of the Jungle Eviction.” BeyondChron. San Francisco. December, 2014.
An Op-Ed published in the wake of the eviction of San Jose's largest homeless encampments.
Republished in the Street Spirit, KQED Forum. Cited on Alternet, Truthout, California Planning and Development Report, Planetizen (2014).
“The Homeless Question of Occupy” with Zoltan Gluck. In Occupy!: Scenes from Occupy America. Co-New York: Verso Press. January, 2012.
Zoltan Gluck (CUNY) and I reflect on the politics of homelessness within the Occupy Movements of Oakland, New York City and beyond. We explore the tensions between the housed and unhoused people who ended up occupying public space together during these moments of protest. We argue for a prefigurative politics of inclusion that does not exclude the unhoused who may be merely seeking shelter within protest encampments and the need to articulate this as a critique of the state rather than a problem of the "camp." Published prior to the scores of evictions of occupations across the US and globe by mayors whom justified such evictions not as acts against free-speech and protest, but rather safe and healthy hazards caused by the presence of non-political unhoused people.
Reprinted from The Occupy Gazette. New York: N+1 Publishing. October, 2011.
Tent Cities in America: A Pacific Coast Report. National Coalition for the Homeless. Washington DC. 2010.
The report profiles 12 large homeless encampments in 8 west coast cities and explains how current tent cities have emerged and operate on a daily basis, how local government authorities have shaped and reacted to encampments, and how community organizing efforts at work within these settlements.
Cited in/on NBC, CBS, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Atlantic Cities, Daily Telegraph (London), United Nations Newsletter, Education News, Legislative Analysis of California Senate Bill SB608, and dozen of local news reports.
“Homeless Encampments and the Logics of Containment”Conversation with C.S. Sung on KPFA Radio’s Against the Grain. 2016.
In this hour-long radio program I discuss the roots and implications of mass homelessness in the US today.
With Yosh Asato, Executive Director of San Francisco's Storefront Lab, I co-organized a series of three symposiums taking a closer look at homeless encampments and interim measures for addressing the homeless crisis. Through the research and experience of academics, policymakers, and advocates—including those who have experienced houselessness and those providing critical services—this series examines current initiatives, how policing and social services play out in the streets, and models from other cities. The purpose: to prompt a more informed, compassionate citizen response as we work towards the longer-term goal of building more affordable and supportive housing. Audio, Reading lists, and information about participants can be found on the linked page.
In the Media