Homelessness as Delinquency: How Private Interests Enforce Constructs of Normalcy in Public Space Jonah Williams
Introduction This paper is an attempt to address a small portion of the complex interplay between wealth and public space. In spaces designated for economic prosperity, an aesthetic of opulence, cleanliness, orderliness, and uniformity is created. When property is privately owned, this is easily accomplished, but in public spaces, such as business districts and downtown areas, enforcing aesthetic standards is problematic. Even when multiple property owners can be persuaded into agreement about a set of design features and a business style to unify the district, there remains the public streets and sidewalks and those who exist in that space. The so-called delinquents— be they homeless veterans, skateboarders, groups of youths, or protesters— stand as a confounding element when businesses seek to control the aesthetic of public space. Drawing from my experiences and observations, as well as existing research and literature, I will describe the ways in which wealth and power shape the nature of public space, in particular the ways in which the idea of the public delinquent has been created and propagated, and how his problematization has allowed for the instillation of mechanisms which enforce a more general sense of normalcy onto public space. I contend that through architecture, discourse, and law, those in power shape public space in the interest of business. While these features may affect the consumer directly, this paper will explore how they affect public space through the non-consumer, the spatial delinquent, particularly the homeless.
I became conscious of these trends while living in public and working with the homeless, drug addicted, and mentally ill from 2001-2007, including my participant observation of a point of conflict between business owners and community members in a shopping center in Santa Cruz County, California. I draw heavily from Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1975), as it offers a solid foundation for appreciating the historical development and functionality of consolidated power and how it exerts control over the masses. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault explores the various functions of the carceral system in society, including the role of the prison in creating and maintaining delinquency, and the role of the delinquent in the perpetuation of surveillance and power structures (Foucault, 1975; 267-292). I will argue that, as a form of delinquent, the homeless subject is created and utilized by policy makers to enact structural changes and establish discipline and, subsequently, a contrived public normalcy favoring economic activity. I seek to establish a clear picture of motive for the construction of a homeless delinquency, how it is accomplished through anti-homeless law, discourse, and architecture, and to indicate which interests exert their power through the various forms of capital (economic, social, political). I will then consider the ethical implications of the actions taken, and of the presumed prerogative to act by those who actively shape public spaces.
Foucault and Delinquency "Law and justice do not hesitate to proclaim their necessary class dissymmetry," from Discipline and Punish, pg. 276 Foucault defines “delinquents” as a perceived class of criminal, or a class of crime, which serves to expand the surveillance and structural hegemony of those in power over the masses. Delinquency is promoted by the system, rather than combated, as it allows for the extension of discipline and observation into large portions of society. Prisons, parole, and other features of the carceral system place the accused and convicted into a different environment and impose different rules upon them, exposing them to contact with criminal culture in prison and societal ostracization of themselves and their families, resulting in the expansion of petty crimes, or the proliferation of criminal culture. The delinquent classes are also much better individualized and observed, as they are forced to endure long probations and paroles, and are under constant threat of further punishment should they violate the court's conditions. The net result is a class of people who are under constant surveillance, may be picked out at any time and examined closely, and who, in all likelihood, may be found to be in violation of some provision. This delinquent class is the intentional extension of the panoptical cell onto every petty criminal, onto any minor violator, exposing them to discipline and observation. Ironically, this does not result in a decrease in crime, but actually facilitates the expansion of crime, with ever increasing numbers of people being subjected into panoptical observation and delinquency.
... the prison, and no doubt punishment in general, is not intended to eliminate offences, but rather to distinguish them, to distribute them, to use them; that is, not so much that they render docile those who are liable to transgress the law, but that they tend to assimilate the transgression of the laws in a general tactics of subjection. Penalty would then appear to be a way of handling illegalities, of laying down the limits of tolerance, of giving free reign to some, of putting pressure on others, of excluding a particular section, of making another useful, of neutralizing certain individuals and of profiting from others. In short, penalty does not simply 'check' illegalities; it 'differentiates' them, it provides them with a general 'economy'. (1975; 272)
Thus, the legal mechanisms reinforce delinquency, which is utilized to perpetuate class differences and extract the utility of the criminal. For instance, some crimes primarily result in financial penalty, which naturally would disproportionally affect people of lower socio-economic status, while being merely an acceptable nuisance to wealthier individuals. Examples of this include vehicular citations and other minor infractions. Furthermore, inducements to commit certain crimes are more prevalent among those in poverty, crimes whose punishment is likely to greatly affect their body and their freedom, such as theft or substance abuse. However white collar crimes like tax evasion, fraud, and insider trading generally result in lesser sentences than petty theft, though their ramifications to society and individuals are arguably far more devastating than individual instances of crime. Though the punishments do not affect everyone in the same way, they do open up legal channels to conduct observation on anyone. This ability to intently observe behavior, ultimately, serves to protect established power structures from 'popular
illegalities,' be they social movements, riots, or any move against the state or holders of capital. Foucault describes the turn of the 19th century as the dawning of these new popular illegalities, when:
... the popular illegalities began to develop according to new dimensions: those that were introduced by the movements which, from the 1780s to the Revolutions of 1848, linked together social conflicts, the struggles against the political regimes, the resistance to the movement of industrialization, the effects of the economic crises. (1975; 273)
Foucault goes on to describe how popular illegalities shifted from “all the agents of injustice” to the law itself and the justice whose task it was to apply it; against local landowners who introduced new rights; against employers who worked together, but forbade workers' coalitions, etc.
It was against the new regime of landed property—set up by a bourgeoisie that profited from the Revolution—that a whole peasant illegality developed. (1975; 274)
It was as a result of the industrialists’ and merchants’ protecting themselves from popular illegalities that the delinquent class was established. The fear generated by these peasant uprisings and political struggles were stoked to instill a fear of the lower classes among those with power. The result was the proliferation of the belief that:
Crime is not a potentiality that interests or passions have inscribed in the hearts of all men, but that it is almost exclusively committed by a certain social class; that criminals,
who were once to be met with in every social class, now emerged almost all from the bottom rank of the social order ... that it is not crime that alienates an individual from society, but that crime is itself due rather to the fact that one is in society as an alien, that one belongs to a 'bastardized race' ... that, this being the case, it would be hypocritical or naive to believe that the law was made for all in the name of all; that it would be more prudent to recognize that it was made for the few and that it was brought to bear upon others; that in principle it applies to all citizens, but that it is addressed principally to the most numerous and least enlightened classes (1975; 275)
Thus the bonding of the idea of criminality with the peasant class: the birth of the delinquent class.
...an open illegality, irreducible at a certain level and secretly useful, at once refractory and docile ... a form of illegality that seems to sum up symbolically all the others, but which makes it possible to leave in the shade those that one wishes to –or must— tolerate. This form is, strictly speaking, delinquency. (1975; 276-277)
Applying Foucault's thesis of delinquency to the modern prison industrial complex does not take a great stretch of imagination, given the continued link between class and criminality. When comparing the delinquent to homelessness, the similarities are glaring. Homeless people are, as a class, considered to be more likely to commit crimes, regardless of anti-homeless legislation (The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty 2002). When there are laws drafted that illegalize the basic functions of existence, such as sleeping in public space, and when these laws are created at the bequest of the higher classes — the businesses and property owners –
and openly aimed at disrupting the existence of homeless individuals, it becomes apparent that being homeless, or rather, being overtly poverty stricken in public, is considered indicative of an inescapable delinquency of spirit, of a criminal mind, of an anti-social being. The threat they pose to society is not primarily of assault, theft, or any violent crime, though popular homeless discourse argues otherwise. Instead, the consciousness of abject poverty, mental illness, and social ostracization in the United States is threatening to the American dream, to the righteousness of capitalism, to the inherent materialism of contemporary lifestyles. Homelessness, in plain view of consumers, is the new popular illegality. The ways in which the public space delinquent affects society are plural. A noncriminal homelessness poses problems to the business class that is addressed by establishing delinquency. First, it should be noted that the presence of homelessness in upscale commercial districts has been cited as a deterrent to business (Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness 2007). To see poverty in contrast to materialism likely reveals some of the shallow and tasteless aspects of consumerism. At the very least, it disrupts the sense of order, cleanliness, and opulence that businesses intentionally try to create in order to promote consumerism. This is the foremost threat to the business class: a threat against their aesthetic of prosperity. Secondly, the consciousness of social issues, such as poverty, mental illness, war-related illnesses, community displacement, and addiction, especially in a public and communal space, might detract from the consumerist tendencies of the citizenry and divert their energies instead to volunteerism, social engagement, peaceful protest, and
an increased ownership of their communities. Though benign and non-violent, such measures would erode some of the power-base of the higher classes: power that is gained and maintained through the citizenry's passive consumption of mass media instead of community dialogue and through the paradigm of unabashed materialism as opposed to other value-based social interactions. Thirdly, once the delinquent is created in the public consciousness, he may be used to establish and reinforce public normalcy. Through the establishment of the homeless individual as criminal, deviant, and delinquent, the antithesis to the ideal is established and may be used to justify the ideal of economic potency by casting its opposite as morally corrupt, lazy, and the product of lack of aspiration. Finally, there is another long lasting effect of the establishment of delinquency in public space. The homeless population, the threat of which has been well established in popular discourse, has justified the implementation of architectural, and legal mechanisms by which public space is highly regulated, at times privatized, and in which abnormality is policed. In some communities, even after homeless individuals are no longer to be seen, the policing continues, further refining the nature of the populace into ideal consumers. This 'normalizing' effect on the populace in general through delinquency takes place concurrently with positive methods to be found in advertisements and other forms of media. The technological tools extant in architecture, law, and discourse foster both positive and negative reinforcement for normalcy. An exploration of these elements of subjectification in regards to homelessness and public space yields an informative
picture of the modern panoptical constructions and their seamless diffusion into society as a whole.
Public Space “Space possesses the dual characteristic of being both a product of social relations and a producer of social relations.” (Lloyd & Auld, 2003; 345) Public space is the product of a confluence of interests: governmental, personal, and economic. The shape of these spaces is ultimately formed through the exertion of power and presence. Architecture is one of the mechanisms through which power structures are expressed and reinforced in space. Ordinance, or law, is another way to regulate behavior and control space. Furthermore, the ways in which people view and invest themselves in space ultimately shapes the aesthetic and functionality of it. We can observe how these mechanisms are not discrete, and blend and interact with each other to form hegemonic norms in space, especially in spaces that are open to the public. Public space may be privately owned. Legal cases have disputed the extension of civil rights to privately owned public space (Pruneyard v. Robbins, 1980), and though power is structured differently on privately owned public space, we can still observe governmental influence (regarding zoning codes or criminal and civil law) and citizen influence, presumably the buyer's ability to take his business elsewhere. On government owned sidewalks and other areas, we can also observe the interplay between these forces, though the ultimate decision rests in the hands of city planners and elected officials. Ideally, the government acts in the interests of its citizens; however
elected officials are reliant upon votes and financial support to earn and retain their privileged position of power. It can reasonably be stated, then, that the power to shape public space is deeply seated in economical and social capital. Those who own private property can obviously shape its architecture and aesthetics, exerting their power to regulate the behavior and type of people who enter upon it. Businesses and citizens also exert their influence beyond the borders of their private property through petition of the government, and through offering economic incentive to the policy makers. Individual citizens without economical capital resources can also work to shape public space, though they wield social capital, thereby influencing policy-makers with popularity, votes, and image. Thus, urban and suburban landscapes are a patchwork of private property with intermittent areas that are open to the public, in varying degrees. The architecture, aesthetic, and behavioral controls in these public spaces are also varied in the extent to which they receive the attention of the policy makers via the exertion of economical and social capital. I assert that to a large extent, the people who inhabit public space are not shaping the policy concerning that space; rather they are being shaped by the policy. This begs the question, “who shapes the policy?”
In the name of business There are many ways that businesses affect local and national policy, but most prominent nationwide is the Chamber of Commerce. While there is a national Chamber, each local chamber exists as its own autonomous entity, though there are varying levels of collaboration between local, state, and national organizations. The Chamber, in its
various incarnations, has very similar goals, which are universally aimed towards betterment of the community in regards to business, investment, and social progress. The Chamber exists to represent business interests to policy makers and to facilitate networking opportunities for its members (uschamber.com). Despite the ubiquity of altruistic-sounding mission statements, certain Chambersupported initiatives affect the usages and popular perspective of public space through direct influence on individuals who exist in public. Homeless individuals represent a delinquent model for usage of public space, and though shrouded in goodwill, efforts to "end homelessness" only offer solutions aimed at removing from public space those individuals deemed bad for business (Canadian Chamber of Commerce, 2010; Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness 2007) There are numerous examples of homeless initiatives fielded by the business community, especially in opulent areas where public space is at a prime. The Santa Monica Chamber has a "Homelessness Committee"(smchamber.com). The Los Angeles Chamber, along with United Way of Greater Los Angeles, founded the Los Angeles Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness, whose self described mission is to "End chronic homelessness in five years"( Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness 2007). On a national scale, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce recently passed a resolution to push for a federal homeless agenda, likely based on the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, a Chamber-backed government initiative also aiming to eliminate chronic homelessness in five years (Canadian Chamber of Commerce, 2010; endhomelessness.org). These initiatives are hoping to end "chronic homelessness" by reallocating current resources to institutional housing,
and only institutional housing. Thus, social and cultural considerations go largely unaddressed and the public may distance themselves from issues of economic disparity, as it is the responsibility of the institution. The category of "chronic homelessness" is a relatively new creation, the term made popular in the language of George W. Bush's National Coalition for the Homeless (nationalhomeless.org). This category is being used to segregate the supposedly hopeless homeless from those who might still be able to contribute something to society, effectively equating “real” homelessness with a set of behaviors and characteristics void of value (Del Casino, Jocoy; 2008). Del Casino and Jocoy argue that the chronically homeless subject—the male, itinerant, mentally ill hobo— is being utilized as a narrow representation of homelessness in order to direct services away from those who do not meet these criteria.
Through the process of subjectification, which re-centers homeless discourse on the chronically homeless as the homeless, policy focusing on the chronic enables the state to eradicate homeless individuals from both public and social services space. Specifying chronic as not just length of time on the streets, but as a deficiency of ability and family, services targeting the chronically homeless are cleaved apart from other social services and poverty reduction programs. The chronically homeless subject is viewed, in the end, as hopeless. Therefore, the best policy is to target them and clear them from the streets. (Del Casino; Jocoy, 2008; 194).
This "chronic homeless subject" bears a strong resemblance to Foucault's delinquent, and they function in much the same way. Through the construction of this
delinquent class, the "chronic homeless" are made known to the public as something distinct, in need of help, possibly dangerous, and hopeless. Those who work to establish the delinquent "chronically homeless" as a distinct catagory are simultaneously proponents of the institutional solution: establishing the need and then offering a product that will satiate it. Interestingly enough, the business community is a fervent supporter of this policy. Rather than being an altruistic endeavor to help the most vulnerable population in our society, it appears that efforts to "end chronic homelessness" seek to simply end the visibly homeless people in public space, the presence of which supposedly detracts from business operations. Rather than finding a home, and purportedly by extension the resolution of all their problems, these individuals are often entered into an institutional setting, often against their will, where they are subjected to mental health assessment and possibly pharmacological behavioral modification. These institutional responses to delinquency have become concentrated spatially in “homeless campuses.” Those who wish to avoid this consequence— given they have the wherewithal to do so— are often coerced to voluntarily remove themselves from areas under the strictest enforcement. Programs of this type offer a "reasonable" alternative to life on the streets, further delegitimizing those who would use public space in non-normative ways. But these are not altruistic endeavors, not in their primary function. Rather than operating at a remove from the ordinances that criminalize homelessness, social programs such as the initiative from the Interagency Council on Homelessness work in tandem with the laws, together effectively changing the aesthetic of the cityscape toward pure commercialization, transit, and regulated recreation. The laws illegalize the
behavior necessary for existence while the shelters offer the barest of necessities together with mental health assessment and judicial functions. The effect is to concentrate the homeless in politically acceptable locations, to integrate them into the system via mental/medical and judicial requirements, and to leave the public space free of commercially undesirable aesthetics or behaviors. This exemplifies a push by businesses towards creating a public space as they envision it: a space for shopping and tourism, highly regulated and clean. The aesthetics of the street, then, are geared to those who would best compliment the business community's bottom line, the wealthy and the middle class. The aesthetics of the street would become more like those inside of a store or shopping mall where private property ownership dominates spatial construction. Randall Amster discusses his case study, a gentrifying Tempe, Arizona, in his book Lost in Space, the Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness(2008). One of the most pointed examples Randal provides of the changing shape of public space is explicitly indicative of the private influence on public space: the privatization of sidewalks in a downtown business district. Amster describes how Downtown Tempe Community, Inc (DTC) worked as a cooperative development venture between business interests and municipal policy-makers, eventually being granted actual ownership of the sidewalks in the city's Centerpoint district. As private property/public space, the Centerpoint area literally took on the defining characteristics of a shopping mall, and all of the exclusionary powers effectively inherent therein. The DTC formed its own private security force, dubbed TEAM (Total Events and Management), that had the ability to enforce the rules of the DTC, and if met with any
opposition, could have the citizen removed by police for criminal trespassing. Essentially, by making the sidewalks private, the City of Tempe and the business community have stripped citizens of their civil rights while in public space. Business leaders were suddenly free to create their own outdoor mall on traditionally public property.
The trend here is disturbing... Developers can unilaterally decide who has rights of access, expression, and association in the most central parts of town— effectively abolishing the First Amendment rights that attach to public spaces... The net result is a sanitizing of the downtown area, with a not-so-subtle tinge of elitism driving the exclusionary agenda. (Amster, 2008; 62)
This is not a lone incident. Indeed, the late 1990's and the first part of the new millennium brought drastic change to the public spaces of prosperous regions of the nation. Robert Ellickson recognizes this trend and theorizes that the impetus is a growing “compassion fatigue” of a hyper-liberalized public (Ellickson, 1996; 1167-1169). I have personally witnessed transformations while living on the west coast in Monterey, Santa Barbara, and especially in Santa Cruz and the surrounding suburbs. Central to many of these phenomena is the concept of the BID (business improvement district) or CBD (central business districts), public spaces that are dominated and redeveloped by the business elites of the community.
Business Improvement Districts (BID) “The number of BIDs in the USA is increasing so rapidly that it is hard to find a definite number (Steel & Symes, 2005; 322).”
The phenomenon of the Business Improvement District (BID) plays a major role in the changing face of public space. By bringing the powers of private property ownership into public space, BIDs enable the business community and policy makers to effectively strip themselves of Constitutional restraints and institute their own regulatory tactics. A BID is formed as a private entity with the appearance of being a public entity, like a neighborhood association but with more clout. BIDs assess their own municipal taxes, spending whatever money they make on their own business district. Thus, they function as a quasi-government over the businesses in their district, adjusting the tax rate independent of other areas of the municipality (2008; 68-72). This gives the governing body of the BID the ability to shape and stylize the aesthetic of the street in a contiguous way, much like shopping malls or shopping centers can create a sort of unified shopping aesthetic.
The BID is, in effect, a centralized management structure that allows dispersed downtown retailers to imitate and incorporate successful elements of the mall. For a shopping mall it is fairly easy to provide common spaces, maintain cleanliness, and orchestrate a high degree of visual and spatial coherence. Because the entire mall is owned by a single developer who leases spaces to individual stores, centralized control is guaranteed through property rights, rules, and detailed lease restrictions. (Kohn: 83)
Some BIDs have ventured so deeply into government that they actually provide social services. The Grand Central Partnership (GCP) in New York established a homeless shelter and outreach center, but their motives and tactics are quite questionable. Kohn describes the “outreach” provided by this charitable service, which included the forced removal of homeless people from public space to the shelter, the destruction of homeless people’s personal property, and even beatings. An investigation into these incidents forced the GCP to return their unused portion of an over half-million dollar grant they had received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (Kohn). The above case illustrates several disturbing problems inherent in BIDs. When public space becomes private, individuals inhabiting that space suddenly lose their Constitutional protection. The business interests act as government, enforcing rules and managing space, but they are unhindered by civil rights as police and public policy makers are. Furthermore, they have an underlying purpose that does not account for the individual citizen except in his role as a consumer, unlike the government, which is intended to act in the interest of liberty, and has checks and balances, such as avenues for citizen participation. When BIDs supplant municipalities, they are able to extend their powers to deal with the same social issues that governments deal with, such as homelessness and public protest, without the same degree of regulation or oversight. The result is a nearly uninhibited private police force that can be utilized against any challenge to the sovereignty of progressive capitalism, be it poverty or protest. The interests of these groups are seemingly benign, at worst inspired by a desire to increase commerce and property value at any cost, and at best by a universal
interest in clean and safe streets, parks, and neighborhoods. There are unavoidable ethical problems in the power relations between the groups wielding economical and social capital and those whose influence is negligible. The powerful enact changes in architecture, ordinance, and public opinion to shape the aesthetic of public spaces, but their policies often disregard the economic, social, and institutional causes of homelessness and poverty while functionally serving to exacerbate them. Economically viable solutions to the problems posed by homelessness and abject poverty are inherently in conflict with civil and human rights. Furthermore, these measures by the economic elite affect the entirety of the community, especially when popular movements counter business interests. In the next section I will delineate some of the ways that power is exerted in public space through the mechanisms of discourse, architecture, and ordinance. In particular, I will explore the ways these mechanisms are directed at the public delinquent—the homeless especially—and how “the delinquent” and the mechanisms used in his name to shape public space can express the ideal normalized public behavior.
Figure 1: Humor, discourse, or official doctrine?
Ordinances The institution of municipal ordinances that intentionally illegalized actions inherent in and essential to the lives of homeless people began in earnest in the late 1980s. The purpose of these ordinances was, ultimately and unabashedly, to change the aesthetic of public space, making it more attractive for commerce and more comfortable for the norm (Amster 2008; Ellickson 1996). As government action, these ordinances were and are constrained by the Federal and State constitutions, established to protect the citizens’ civil rights. As a result, they were subject to much scrutiny by various civil rights organizations and citizen activists (Ellison; 1996).
As there has been ample work exploring the constitutionality, functionality, and morality of anti-homeless legislation (Ellickson 1996; Smith 1994; Schragger 2001), I will not cover well-worn ground. It is not within the scope of this paper to explore these issues in depth. Instead I will focus on the use of the legal system to construct homelessness as public delinquency. Many of the activities considered to be evidence of homelessness, such as sleeping in parks, bench-camping, or drinking in public, were not illegal nor popularly considered to be anti-social prior to the passage of ordinances (Ellickson 1996, 12141217). In this way, the ordinances have created the crime (Amster 2008; 88). By creating the crime, the activity is illegitimated in the eyes of the public who have faith in their legislative and judicial systems. Thus, the idea of homelessness as delinquency is reinforced, leaving in the shadow economic, societal health, or any other issues which may cause poverty or drive people to exist solely in public space. With the simplified view of homelessness as delinquency, citizens are not faced with some of the complex questions that arise when considering the roots of poverty and the nature of life in public spaces. The homeless are considered criminals, and therefore they are lumped with other criminals and other stereotypes of criminal pathology. They are lazy, greedy, violent, robbers, rapists and drug users. There need be no deeper understanding of their condition, because it is obviously a product of their deficiency as humans, be it class, education, or motivation that causes them to live in squalid condition. This echoes the construction of the delinquent class in Discipline and Punish, and the distinction between crime and delinquency. Foucault’s delinquent, much like the homeless, is a product of his class, has little recourse to change what he
is, and therefore may be considered sub-human (Foucault, 1975; 276). The crime, rather than rehabilitating or deterring, serves to subjectify the criminal, to isolate him as non-normative. Furthermore, the deterrence factor does not illegalize poverty or drive people to overcome their mental conditions. Rather, it drives them from sight, or pushes them towards an acceptance of institutionalization. Those who cannot or chose not to alter their lifestyle face introduction into the criminal justice system. Those who can avoid arrest or institutionalization find themselves pushed toward the accepted norm in their public role. To avoid arrest they may not sit and read for hours in a public space, they may seek full-time employment to pay for a place to sleep, eat, and drink, they may conform to the expectations of the community, participating solely as a consumer in public places, and may even curse those beggars not so unlike themselves as they alter their path to avoid those stationed on the sidewalk. The normalizing effect of the delinquent class comes from one’s ability to escape that label, or to participate actively in the labeling of others. Those who are disabled in that respect have no choice. Therefore the criminalization of “undesirable” behavior sweeps up the disabled as delinquent, criminalizing and demonizing them in the eyes of society. The net effect is a society that fears the weak, avoids certain activities or appearances in public lest they be considered deficient or delinquent, and instead focuses on their own ascendancy in the stratified class system which has been constructed as normal. This perception of normal and delinquent, while precipitated by law, becomes most highly functional when embodied and replicated amongst the citizenry, as
Ellickson callously explains (1996; 1194-1200 ). In the next section, I will discuss how discourse refines normalcy and delinquency in public space. Discourse Representations of homelessness in the media are one example of discourse. Interpersonal communications also constitute a powerful discursive element, shaping public opinion. Whether intentional or the product of a natural process of observation, dissemination, simulation, and simplification, discursive patterns have a powerful ability to shape public opinion and actions. It is precisely because of this power that many public debates are shaped by intentional discourse, or nullified through distractive exertions upon the popular discourse. Homeless discourse, I suggest, is largely fed and disseminated intentionally by those with agendas served by the subjectification of homeless individuals as delinquents.
Figure 2: The familiar stereotype of homelessness: the begging bum.
The idea of “chronic homelessness” discussed in the introduction is a potent example of popular discourse. Indeed, the above image is highly recognizable as being representative of homelessness. Though many homeless people do beg for change and “fly signs,” it must be recognized that this icon is not representative of the entire population. However, this image, and this set of traits has been inexorably linked to homelessness thanks to its pervasive use. Coupled with proliferation of this image of homelessness are the attribution of labels and descriptions seemingly fit for all homeless people: Addiction, alcoholism, laziness, greed, manipulation, craziness, and many more. This discourse is framed, as is most discourse, from above—in the media, government, and through public-relations style campaigns. In his case study, Amster quotes Rod Keeling, former director of the DTC and instrumental framer of homeless discourse in Tempe. In his 1998 article "Time to Sweep Slackers Off Mill," Keeling wrote:
To allow a small number of misbehaving individuals to run off the citizens of this community from our finest public space, space that was paid for by those very citizens, is wrong (Amster,2008; 62).
While Amster appropriately points out the irony of this statement given the fact that a corporate entity is excluding taxpayers from this public space, this statement is also indicative of the process of establishing the delinquent via public relations discourse. Through statements such as this, business interest antagonists shape and subjectify the homeless into a particularly simple and dislikable class. By the same
token, the will of the community is simplified and framed by this discourse, their perspectives are polarized, they are either in favor of destitution and economic ruin or they support prosperity and the necessary exclusion of undesirables in the name of development. Teresa Heinz conducted a discourse analysis of media representations of homelessness, uncovering an “uneasy relationship” between capitalism and homelessness.
Far from being instances of generalized negative stereotypes, the Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor's homelessness coverage reflects a far more complex situation of how ideas of citizenship and consumption in a capitalist culture are mapped onto marginalized groups such as the homeless. Rather than being an objective enterprise, the news coverage of homelessness is grounded in a socio-political context in which capitalism and homelessness have an uneasy co-existence.. Without homes that help define them as citizens, the American homeless are portrayed as “Others” by the journalistic conventions that enable the newspaper ISA to constitute its cultural authority in a capitalist society. (Heinz, 2005; 157)
The power of media messages to influence people’s behavior and actions is highly apparent in the world around us. From fashion to political or religious conviction, patterns and memes are replicated and simulated, reinforcing their legitimacy as truth through their human regeneration. Could the behavior of homeless people, having developed recognizable features and aesthetics, be yet another meme? Could the proliferation of the delinquent homeless and delinquent youth cultures be shaped—if not created—by the proliferation of its image? If we can accept that the commonalities
amongst “normal” people in their desires, pursuits, fashions, and perspectives are memes, isn’t it likely that our behaviors regarding failures, rebellion, mental illnesses, and delinquency are also heavily constructed by the media that inform us of our world? Could they be shaped by the professionals who tell us what those pathological beings are, and why they are a problem? To these intriguing questions I answer in a strong affirmative. From my experiences in life, from my grasp of human nature, and from my observations of the similarities humans possess in their embodied identities, I cannot help but recognize the powerful influence that images and discourse, particularly from mass media, have in every aspect of our lives.
“The biggest single obstacle to the provision of better spaces is the undesirables problem. They are themselves not too much of a problem. It is the actions taken to combat them that is the problem. Out of an almost obsessive fear of their presence, civic leaders worry that if a place is made attractive to people it will be attractive to undesirable people. So it is made defensive. There is to be no loitering . . . and . . . no eating, no sleeping. So it is that benches are made too short to sleep on, that spikes are put in ledges… (Whyte, 1998; 49)”
Another powerful force in the human experience is the environment we inhabit. Christopher Alexander (et. al.1977) makes a very convincing argument for the integral influence of human environment, particularly common land/public space.
The common land has two specific social functions. First, the land makes it possible for people to feel comfortable outside their buildings and their private territory, and therefore allows
them to feel connected to the larger social system--though not necessarily to any specific neighbor. And second, common land acts as a meeting place for people... There is a new emotional disorder -- a type of agoraphobia -- making its appearance in today's cities. Victims of this disorder are afraid to go out of their houses for any reason... We speculate... that this disorder may be reinforced by the absence of common land, by an environment in which people feel they have no 'right' to be outside their own front doors. If this is so, agoraphobia would be the most concrete manifestation of the breakdown of common land (Alexander et al, 1977; 337-338).
This breakdown of common land has been exacerbated since Alexander’s words, accelerated by the influx of panoptical technology into the public sphere. The theoretical principles behind Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon have infused themselves into nearly every aspect of public life in the United States. Foucault identified the principles and demonstrated their presence in many other institutions, namely the schools, hospitals, wards, military barracks, schools, and elements of the carceral system (Foucault 1975). The role of optics in hegemonic structures is ingrained in the architecture of the panopticon, and has become commonplace with the implementation of CCTV, for example, which has now become a commonly accepted fact of life for most. Aside from optics, though closely aligned, is the way in which architecture can serve to partition, be it individually, by class, or by any other criteria one chooses. Spatial organization can be seen in cities in the form of ghettos, housing projects, industrial areas, and commercial districts. This partitioning places citizens under individualized observation and highly regulates lateral communication, instead establishing the dominance of the hierarchical structure, the observation of those below
by those above, the criminals by the police, the workers by the captains of industry, the students by the teacher, the teacher by the administrator, the administrator by the school board, and so on. Cellular individuation for the purposes of dominance, as can be seen in every one of the above institutional examples, has developed from the actual partitioning of bodies in space and has merged with optics to form the individual identity as a package, a unit that can be accessed, understood, and controlled. Technological innovation and social networking have furthered this cause by giving the individual superficial ownership of their individuation, akin to a prisoner hanging up drawings and letters in a jail cell. In this way, Facebook, and other social networking innovations on the web, while allowing much lateral interaction, observes all of it, places it in context, and when need be, will use it to refine the system and manipulate people, especially regarding advertising. This is just one example. In short, we live in a structurally dominating world. With regard to the architecture of the cities and the suburbs the streets and sidewalks exhibit clear partitioning, exclusion, and restriction of use, from the scale of neighborhoods and districts down to the landscaping outside of a business. By observing the change in architectural elements over time, especially concurrent with BID implementation or other gentrifying efforts, one can see the different tactics and efforts aimed at establishing normative conduct in the public space. I will offer a few brief examples.
Of all the architectural movements against homelessness, the deprivation of comfortable rest seems to be the most prolific.
Figure 3: But one permutation of the anti-homeless bench
Equally iconic as the homeless beggar from Figure 2 is the homeless sleeper. Sprawled on a bench or under cardboard, awareness of their plight becomes unavoidable, and therefore problematic to the business aesthetic. The idea behind the partitioned bench is to deprive them of a place to sleep; to either force them to the ground or to drive them elsewhere, where they will be someone else’s problem. The message is clear: certain behaviors are no longer allowed in public. Sleeping in public is associated with homelessness, and therefore is discouraged as unacceptable. Another architectural feature that deprives delinquents of rest and habitation is less subversive and more sinister. There is no denying that it affects everyone in public equally. Sitting has become less socially acceptable is some places, so the removal of seating is implemented. Two ways that this is accomplished are the physical removal of the object seated upon, or the redesign of the object to make seating as uncomfortable as possible.
The latter often consists of spikes, tiny fences, stubs, uncomfortable slopes, or even the transformation of the space into planter beds. Figure 4 compares two systems used to deter the unwanted—pigeon spikes and human spikes.
Figure 4: Pigeon spikes and human spikes deter unwanted creatures from loitering in public. The human spikes are located outside of a church in England.
Simple removal of seating is also implemented. At the shopping center in Aptos, California where I personally witnessed many efforts to gentrify the community, a large patio area full of seating was cemented over and turned into a makeshift planter bed. Another seating area turned planter bed was eliminated altogether when customers simply began sitting on the planter’s edge. Many of these architectural features go hand in hand with ordinances designed to move people along, or prevent them from gathering and socializing. In Santa Cruz, a city ordinance was enacted that prohibited begging within 50 feet of a bank or cash
machine, in addition to other restrictions near building entrances and bus stops. The city then installed ATM cash machines at intervals along the Pacific Avenue Mall, effectively illegalizing panhandling throughout the district. Were they to simply illegalize soliciting, they would run afoul of the Constitutional speech rights of individuals, and may have been challenged. By utilizing architecture, they may subvert the Constitution to accomplish their goal. For the purposes of this paper, I will also characterize the geographic location of shelters and services as architectural features. In Santa Cruz, for instance, the shelter was built on an old industrial site, hedged in by large roads and a river. There is also a new trend of locating all homeless services in a “homeless campus,” usually located far from commercial districts. The 37 acre “Haven of Hope” in San Antonio has become a “model” solution for the homeless question, receiving guests from around the world who are interested in the project (2010, tonic.com). While tonic.com and CNN reporters praise the project, they seem to rely heavily on the Haven for Hope’s PR for their reporting. One CNN reporter inadvertently points to the hypocrisy of the facility when, after a panning video of prison-like bunk dorms, he describes the facility as “…the kind of one-stop-shop that normally only exists at the county jail.” (CNN; April 2010). The reporter then points out that the money is better spent saving a life than on jailing individuals, after which the County Judge, Nelson Wolff explains that people who go to jail generally come out worse than when they went in.
The irony of these statements seem to escape the Judge and the reporters, but the institutionalization of the homeless in campuses has strong parallels to incarcerations, especially from a Foucaldian perspective.
Figure 5: The sanitary architectural drawing of the Haven for Hope facility, whose stated goal is to re-integrate homeless people into society.
A look at the facility and its services gives an indication of what is to come for those social delinquents who are unable or unwilling to vacate the streets. The area, traditionally called “Cattleman’s Square,” was a former industrial stockyard. The site is wedged between two active railroad corridors in an industrial section of the city just west of a major highway interchange. The complex houses a makeshift jail/detox courtroom building, and job training center. The idea is to reintegrate the clients, many of whom
are referred by the courts, churches, and other agencies, and to “separate the Panhandlers from the Truly Homeless” (havenforhope.org/about_sevenprinciples.asp). Without in depth observation or research regarding facilities such as this one, it is difficult to make any concrete determination of the purpose or functionality of the campus’s services. However, given the history of anti-homeless activity by the business community and public policy-makers, and looking at the political and economic interests who developed this project, and taking into account the location and architectural features of the site, I am highly skeptical of their purported altruistic motives. The future of homelessness seems to be moving towards these types of institutions, certainly in communities that can afford them. The trend seems to be toward the elimination of homelessness through the removal of the presence of the homeless on the streets. Instead, they will be concentrated in these facilities, medicated, reintegrated, or incarcerated.
Conclusion It should be made explicit that the legal, discursive, and architectural features used to establish public delinquency and shape public space do not only affect the homeless. In my time in California I witnessed the harassment, destruction of property, incarceration, and death of many homeless people due to their perceived delinquency, but much more striking than all of that was the effect that these measures had on people who were well educated, held long term employment, were retired, owned property, had happy, healthy families, and who patronized the businesses which were proponents of these policies.
The anti-homeless moves by the business community had profound effects on “normal” citizens. Places where people gathered before or after work to meet friends, eat, drink coffee, be entertained, and go shopping were becoming less hospitable to the people with whom they did their business. Why was this? I can only theorize the motives behind these policies that seemed to be implemented at roughly the same time across California and across the United States. Santa Cruz— long a retirement/surfing community, home to free spirits and alternative lifestyles—became a bedroom community to the Silicon Valley, housing its wealthy residents, and altering the demographics of the area. I can only theorize that with the influx of money from the dot com capital, the business community saw an opportunity to upgrade. A primary obstacle to that development were the vibrant communities already in place, especially the street community. The street community was not merely “chronically homeless” vets and the mentally ill as we are accustomed to today. It was a place where youth gathered, where travelling young people embarking on low-cost backpack tourism would congregate and meet the locals, where the locals would meet each other, where protests took place and where those who had checked out of the rat race found sustenance and community. The street is no longer these things in many places. Behavior that was once commonplace is now delinquent, criminalized, and quickly corrected, especially in outdoor commercial areas such as the Pacific Avenue Mall in Santa Cruz. The community has undeniably been changed (See huffsantacruz.org). There are many ethical problems to be addressed when considering homelessness and the alteration of public space in the interest of business. Who has a
claim over the public areas and the way they are inhabited? What generates the passivity with which people view social problems and address them? How can something necessary for life, such as sleeping, be illegalized, and when it is how do we deal with those who cannot help but break the law? To what degree should business be intermeshed with public policy, especially to the exclusion of citizen participation? These questions do not have universally acceptable answers—it depends on which end of the economic and political spectrums one identifies. However, in a country that highly values freedom and community, the unmistakable progression towards business oriented oligarchy in certain areas is problematic. The creation of delinquency and delinquent classes based on socieo-economic status and disability is dehumanizing given the inescapability of poverty for many people and the protections offered in the Americans with Disabilities Act. I contend that the manipulation of the lowest strata to affect the masses, promote economic growth, and assure control over public space is antithetical to the tenets of democracy and human dignity. I am deeply concerned about the socially acceptable implementation of quasi-legal/medial/charitable institutions designed to clear these economic centers of undesirables, and the proliferation and ramifications of these institutions worldwide. Poverty and social justice are not effectively dealt with by institutionalizing people or simplifying their plight into a dichotomous paradigm of normal and delinquent. Only through the active and critical participation of the people in their communities, through the interaction with those they disagree with, those with which they find common ground, and those they do not understand, may prominent issues of social inequity, poverty, and mental illness be addressed to the satisfaction of all parties.
I contend that the power to think critically and operate autonomously in our society has been eroded to a critical state. Without these crutial human and communal skills, there is little we are not capable of accepting or doing to one another at the bidding of those who shape the community, frame the discourse, and write the laws. I hope this paper will illuminate some of the ways that wealth and business have goaded the masses into an acceptance of inhumane treatment of others for profit. I hope it encourages discussion, critical thought, ethical consideration, and action among policymakers and community members, without which we will undoubtedly find ourselves in a more isolated and degrading world.
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