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The rise of the tent ward: Homeless camps in the era of mass incarceration

In the era of mass incarceration, services for the homeless often involve mechanisms of
confinement and discipline. Over the past decade, homeless communities in cities across the US
have developed large-scale homeless encampments in which residents survive outside the
purview of official homelessness management systems. Most cities have responded by evicting
campers and destroying their tents and shanties. Yet some local governments have instead
legalized encampments, while imposing varying degrees of spatial control and surveillance on
camp residents. In so doing, they have created unique new spaces for managing homelessness.
This article terms these spaces “tent wards” to reflect their dualistic functions of both care and
custody. Based on secondary sources and ethnographic research from 2013, I analyze nearly a
dozen tent wards in cities across the US, and engage a more in-depth study of the development of
such spaces in Fresno, California. I argue that the rise of tent wards calls attention to the need for
a renewed focus on the relationship between incarceration and welfare in the US, and the ways in
which a diverse range of spaces function together to isolate and discipline entire segments of the
homelessness; carceral space; camps; policing; jails; shelters
For over a decade, anti-homeless policing and inadequate shelter in cities across the
United States have driven homeless people into encampments located in marginal urban spaces.
By 2014, there were an estimated one hundred homeless encampments in the US, ranging in size
from a dozen to hundreds of people living collectively (Hunter, et al. 2014). For years, local
governments largely responded by evicting campers and destroying their tents and shanties. Yet
many cities have also sanctioned homeless encampments and engaged a range of tactics to render
them more easily governable. These tacticsmost notably the use of rigid discipline and spatial
containmentresemble the mode through which carceral institutions govern criminalized
populations. I describe these encampments as “tent wards” to reflect how incarceration becomes
enmeshed with the provision of care and shelter. These spaces are not simply a cost-effective
form of shelter: they are a new node in a wider network of quasi-carceral spaces that govern
homeless mobility. This phenomenon sheds light on the ways in which the carceral mode of
governance is increasingly fundamental to US homelessness management.
This project emerged out of 24 interviews conducted in 2013 in Fresno, California, at a
time when the city was home to some of the largest and most visible tent cities in the nation.
Nine of the people interviewed were officials involved in homelessness management, eight were
current or former residents of homeless encampments, and seven were activists involved in a
local campaign for the right to camp. Participants were identified using snowball sampling, and
represented a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Many participants elected to remain
anonymous and are identified here using pseudonyms. Research also involved analysis of two
local media sourcesthe Fresno Bee and Community Alliance Newspaperas well as policy
reports, legal documents, and digital sources depicting homeless activism and evictions in
Fresno. Finally, this article draws on three months of ethnographic observations in local shelters
and encampments in the summer of 2013. Beyond Fresno, I analyze news articles and policy
reports on homeless encampments in cities across the nation. After 2013, all tent cities in Fresno
were destroyed and the police department set up a taskforce to prevent people from camping
again. This article focuses on the period leading up to 2013, as it reflects an era in which cities
sought to contain and govern the growing phenomenon of homeless encampments.
Mass incarceration in the US today is fundamentally tied to the long history of US
poverty management. Piven and Cloward (1971) famously argued that the welfare state functions
to regulate the poor by expanding and contracting according to economic shifts. During times of
high unemployment, welfare institutions absorb the unemployed to maintain order and pacify
civil unrest. In times of low unemployment, degrading welfare conditions ensure that people
continue to engage in waged labor. Wacquant (2010) argues that in the contemporary era,
welfare has increasingly been replaced by explicitly punitive institutionsjails and prisons
which similarly function to regulate labor. The present era of “new punitiveness” has been
marked by an explosion in the prison population over the past several decades, coupled with the
shrinking of the welfare state. As Gilmore (2007) argues, this carceral boom is grounded in the
economic impetus to warehouse poor people of color who have been excluded from labor
The prison has long been understood as belonging to a broader continuum of institutions
that supervise, confine, and normalize residents. Foucault (1995, p. 231) argued that the prison
represents the most “complete and austere” institution of control, as techniques of spatial
surveillance and punishment are enacted at a range of intensities across a network of different
sites. Thus, the prison is a model that influences a variety of “quasicarceral spaces” (Moran, et
al., 2017, p. 14). Based on this understanding, geographers have highlighted the diffuse nature of
carceral space itself (Gill, 2103; Brown, 2014; Moran, 2015). Indeed, entire neighborhoods can
become quasi-carceral when residents are subjected to intense and targeted policing (Davis,
1990; Peck and Theodore, 2008). Simon (2007) argues that across the US, mechanisms of
authority that emerged in prison systems are increasingly employed in other venues, including
workplaces, families, and schools. Perhaps because of its pervasiveness, the boundaries and
characteristics of carceral space remain difficult to pin down. Moran et al. (2017) highlight three
“conditions” of carcerality—intent, detriment, and spatialitywhich together frame
incarceration as the use of space to intentionally impose harm. Drawing on this understanding, I
examine “quasi-carceral” sites as employing less severe iterations of the same techniques
employed by prisonssurveillance, exclusion, forced mobility, and confinement, for example
to strategically manage space to the detriment of targeted groups of people.
In the contemporary era, the nexus between homelessness and incarceration has been
well documented. Based on extensive survey data, Geller and Curtis (2011) found that recently
incarcerated men are at much higher risk of housing insecurity and homelessness. Homeless
people, in turn, are jailed anywhere from 8 to 40 times more often than the general population,
overwhelmingly on charges of petty public order offenses (Metraux, et al., 2008). Thus,
incarceration and homelessness mutually reinforce each other, producing a racialized cycle of
exclusion and punishment (Gowan, 2002). Metraux, et al. (2008) argue that carceral institutions
themselves have come to function as institutions for the management of homelessness. Indeed, in
2008 over 350,000 people lived in shelters (HUD, 2009) and nearly 2.5 million people were
incarcerated, nine percent of whom were homeless (Sabol, West, and Cooper, 2009; Greenberg
and Rosenheck, 2008). Together, this data suggests that carceral institutions rival homeless
shelters as primary sites of homelessness management.
Homeless shelters themselves have a long history of regulating poverty through punitive
mechanisms. The contemporary shelter traces its origins to colonial-era poorhouses that
historically regulated and confined poor and marginalized populations (Irwin, 1985). Indeed, in
their earliest iterations, the poorhouse and the jail were often the same institution. Chapman,
Carey and Ben-Moshe (2014) argue that early sites of confinement shared overlapping functions
and objectives, such that poorhouses, jails, and even hospitals often served to house as well as
punish poor people who were sick, homeless, or disabled. By the 18th century, reform
movements spawned the proliferation of institutions differentiated by population. Like their early
counterparts, contemporary shelters often involve residents’ collective loss of self-determination,
tightly scheduled daily routines, and rules against which privileges or punishments are defined
(Stark, 1994; Dordick, 1996; DeWard and Moe, 2010). In a 1982 survey, New York City shelter
residents rated prisons superior to shelters as a form of housing (Crystal & Goldstein, 1982).
DeWard and Moe (2010) describe a “prisonlike” women’s shelter in which purchasing outside
food or failing to obtain a job were justifications for being kicked out.
Although shelters are distinct from jails and prisons in the fundamental fact that residents
are free to leave, this freedom must be examined in the context of anti-homeless policing. For
decades, homeless people have been subject to the perpetual threat of arrest for life-sustaining
activities like sitting, sleeping, and urinating (Davis, 1990, Mitchell, 1997; Amster, 2008).
Beckett and Herbert (2010) argue that in effectively banishing homeless people from public
space, anti-homeless policing functions as a carceral mechanism that enforces spatial mobility
rather than confinement. Stuart (2013) notes that anti-homeless policing also engages discourses
of recovery and treatment, and functions to shepherd people into shelter spaces as well as jails. In
recent years, the criminalization of US homelessness has only continued to worsen, with cities
across the nation ramping up anti-homeless policing and passing new and more severe
restrictions (NLCHP, 2014). Thus, the freedom to leave the shelter is increasingly tenuous,
which in turn imbues shelters with a more austere quality.
Yet in the various spaces that house and contain homelessness, punitive logics are never
all-encompassing. Indeed, homeless management today is largely turning towards a model of
permanent supportive housing that promises to provide housing vouchers without attached
disciplinary requirements. Further, a growing body of literature in geography examines how care
and compassion are integral to the nature of homelessness management (see generally
DeVerteuil, 2006; Deverteuil, et al., 2009). In cities across the US, service workers motivated by
deep commitments to compassion and social justice intervene on behalf of people struggling
with homelessness. Further, homeless people themselves navigate services according to their
own needs, such that they are never fully subject to the disciplinary demands of any single
shelter. Such realities make for a complex, nuanced landscape of homelessness that is
simultaneously confining and open, punitive and caring. Thus, in the case of homelessness,
quasi-carceral spaces are not permanent or fixed, but involve a constant cycling through a diffuse
range of both therapeutic and disciplinary institutions. As I show in the following section, the
space of the tent ward reveals the interplay between these contradictory logics, as welfare and
incarceration are deeply enmeshed in sanctioned encampments across the US.
Prior to the 2008 housing crisis, the contemporary phenomenon of tent cities emerged as
a result of anti-homeless policing combined with an inadequate and disciplinary shelter system
(Herring and Lutz, 2015). In cities where policing pushed homeless people into marginal urban
spaces and shelters became increasingly inhospitable, larger numbers of unsheltered people were
left with fewer spaces in the city. Thus, large-scale and enduring homeless encampments
developed in cities with under-funded service infrastructures and over-active punitive
mechanisms. At the same time, such encampments enabled homeless people to establish a
modicum of autonomy from disciplinary homelessness management systems. As Hunter et al.
(2014, p. 3) argue, “tent cities can offer individuals and families autonomy, community, security,
and privacy in places where shelters have not been able to create such environments.”
By and large, cities across the US largely responded to such autonomous spaces through
the logic of policing and displacement. Yet over the past decade, many cities began taking a
different approach, seeking instead to develop sanctioned encampments, some of which have
enabled residents to maintain control over the space of the camp. Such autonomous
encampments are governed collectively by residents who develop semi-permanent “tiny house”
villages with communal spaces for cooking and relaxing, as well as sharing household chores.
Such spaces have been described as representing a new model of urbanism and housing for the
homeless (Heben, 2014; Turner, 2017). Portland’s Dignity Village is one of the most well-known
examples of an autonomous sanctioned encampment. It was formally approved in 2001 after a
protracted struggle over the right to camp, and currently houses an intentional community of
approximately 60 residents. Yet as a precondition to city approval, campers were forced to
relocate from a downtown encampment to a fenced-in composting facility seven miles away,
squeezed between a state prison and an airport. The remote location makes it difficult for
residents to access food, jobs and social services (NCH, 2010). Further, residents are not
impervious to the ongoing problem of anti-homeless policing. Thus, even the most radical camp
spaces remain subject to carceral management to varying degrees.
Unlike the relative autonomy of Dignity Village, many sanctioned camps are governed
according to harsh disciplinary measures (Mitchell, 2012; Herring, 2014). Strategies to control
sanctioned encampments include relocating them to more palatable locations, issuing
individualized permits to approved residents, and revising local zoning ordinances. Cities that
amend local laws to accommodate encampments often disallow any ad hoc or autonomous tent
city formation (Loftus-Farren, 2011) and require tent cities to have a supporting host agency and
pre-approved city permits. In addition, laws tolerating tent city formation often require
encampments to conform to health and safety regulations and mandate “public meetings with
adjoining neighborhoods, notification of schools, population limitations, security, screening, and
codes of conduct” (Loftus-Farren, 2011, p. 1071).
In many regards, sanctioned encampments of today resemble transient work camps of the
Great Depression. As “Hoovervilles” became a staple of the urban landscape, the government
responded by instituting an aggressive policy of homeless containment (Mitchell, 2012). In 1933,
Congress created the Federal Transient Service (Starr, 1996), and local authorities began to set
up federally funded transient camps for homeless migrants. These encampments were designed
to “eliminate the tramps” and also to restore homeless “self-respect” through a routine of hard
work (Crouse, 1986, p. 153). By 1934, there were 189 federally funded camps across the country
(Crouse, 1986). Camps were often replete with army-type barracks, running water, and sewage
facilities. Authorities guaranteed that residents would be subject to “strict discipline” at all times
(Crouse, 1986, p. 154). Thus, the camps were simultaneously highly controlled and spatially
isolated, but also designed with the paternalistic aim of restoring the “tramp” to the status of a
working person.
Based on policy reports and news coverage of nearly a dozen sanctioned and heavily
regulated encampments up until 2013, I argue that such spaces are akin to “tent wards” in that
they simultaneously perform custodial and carceral functions. The term “ward” has multiple
meanings. It can describe a space within a hospital or prison, as well as a territorial division of a
city. In its archaic usage, the “ward” was any place enclosed by the walls of a fortress. Thus, it
conveys the geographic quality of spatial separation, as well as the action of watching over and
protecting a particular site. When used to describe people, it suggests visual surveillance, care,
and paternalism. The “ward of the state,” for example, is a person deemed incapable of
exercising independent control over her own life, who is thus subject to the authority and
safekeeping of the warden. As I show in what follows, these multiple meanings all capture some
aspect of tent wards, which sit at the nexus between institutions of care and the punitive state
Perhaps the most common feature of tent wards is that they are not managed by homeless
communities, but by an outside authority often connected to a law enforcement agency. Private
agencies and sheriff’s departments have been tasked with operating multiple encampments in
California and Florida (NCH, 2010; Hunter, et al., 2014). Another common feature is the use of
background checks to control who can and cannot gain residency. At Pinellas Hope in St.
Petersberg, Florida, residents are typically referred to the facility by a team of police officers and
social workers. Before admission, they must undergo a breathalyzer test, background test, and
detailed screening (Hunter, et al., 2014). In two Washington cities, municipal code requires an
outside manager for all encampments and background checks for residents (Lynnwood, 2014;
Spokane, 2014). These practices highlight the implicit goal of funneling homeless people into
various spacesjails, shelters, and tent wardsalong a carceral continuum according to their
perceived criminality.
As with jails and prisons, tent wards are often fenced in and surveilled. When an
encampment developed in Reno in 2008, the city responded by fencing in and securitizing the
property (Loftus-Farren, 2011). In both Lynnwood and Spokane, Washington, municipal code
mandates six-foot fencing around the perimeter of all sanctioned encampments, as well as
constant surveillance (Lynnwood, 2014; Spokane, 2014). Such requirements suggest a dual
function: fencing can be used to conceal homeless encampments from surrounding areas, as well
as to afford residents a modicum of privacy. Similarly, surveillance can be a tool to protect
residents, as well as police their daily lives. This duality highlights how protective and
disciplinary functions become deeply enmeshed in the space of the tent ward.
In addition to fencing, many cities have resorted to isolation as a strategy to conceal tent
cities. In St. Petersburg, Pinellas Hope is located ten miles from the downtown area, in an
industrial manufacturing zone located on a former swampland (Hunter, et al., 2014). Many
residents walk the ten-mile trek each day to get downtown. Safe Harbor is located fifteen miles
from downtown and residents “face significant challenges in finding transportation to make
appointments and interviews” (Hunter, et al., 2014, p. 54). Similarly, a sanctioned encampment
that housed 450 residents in Ontario, California was tucked between abandoned orchards and an
airport, on the edges of the city (NCH, 2010). In Washington, municipalities have written spatial
separation into the local code, with one city mandating “visual separation and buffering” (Lacy,
2014). As with prisons and homeless shelters, this spatial isolation relieves local governments of
the problems of NIMBYism by making unpopular communities and spaces largely invisible to
the public eye.
Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of tent wards is the strict enforcement of rules
and regulations. A sanctioned encampment in River Haven, California required residents to see a
case-manager and attend meetings regularly to demonstrate “an honest plan to end their
homelessness” (NCH, 2010, p. 62). In Reno’s sanctioned tent city, the government implemented
a series of rules and regulations and required that residents “register with the camp, and that they
check in with city officials on a weekly basis regarding their progress in finding jobs and other
housing options” (Loftus-Farren, 2011, p. 1072). At Pinellas Hope, residents have assigned
chores, must post their daily location on a public monitoring board each morning, must wear a
wristband at all times, and are searched upon each re-entry (Hunter, et al., 2014). Residents must
also meet with a caseworker on a regular basis and are subject to eviction if they create a
disturbance. Pinellas Hope has been touted as a success, and nearby communities are considering
similar models. Yet a policy report on tent cities describes the facility in less optimistic tones:
“The great strength of the organic tent cities was their bottom-up nature. … City authorities
betrayed this vision when they appropriated the tent city model and turned it into a regimented,
top-down solution” (Hunter, et al., 2014, pp. 55-56). Ontario’s encampment was also notorious
for its heavily disciplinary character. Inside, identical army tents were arranged in ordered rows
and private security guards monitored residents around the clock. The city established a strict set
of rules, including a ban on drugs, alcohol, and pets (NCH, 2010). Campers were issued ID cards
every 90 days if they complied with these rules and showed “promise and desire to find a job and
acquire housing” (NCH, 2010, p. 56). They were required to carry their ID cards at all times and
were not allowed to bring visitors inside. One camper described the camp as “a prison(Sanford,
2009). Another woman said of the wristband requirement: "They are tagging us because we are
homeless. … It feels like a concentration camp" (Kelly, 2008). The heavy emphasis on control
and rehabilitation suggests that local homelessness management officials viewed the homeless as
an unruly population in need of strict discipline and control.
An even starker model explicitly combines sanctioned encampments with carceral
institutions. In 2011, the Sheriff’s Department in St. Petersberg created a facility called Safe
Harbor that was strictly administered by a combination of Sheriff’s teams, private security
guards, and police officers. Safe Harbor serves as both a shelter and a jail diversion program.
Under threat of arrest, homeless residents are given the option to enter Safe Harbor to avoid jail
time. However, because homeless people are routinely profiled and targeted for arrest, the
diversion program “becomes primarily a means to remove homeless individuals from the streets”
(Hunter et al., 2014, p. 53). The facility is located in a former jail, on a concrete block
surrounded by high-fences and wiring. It includes an outdoor area with 100 mattresses arranged
underneath a roof overhang. The facility has a number of correctional rules, as well as near-
constant surveillance and lack of privacy. Not surprisingly, local homeless people and advocates
have criticized Safe Harbor and often refer to it colloquially as a “jail-ter”—a combination jail
and shelter (Hunter, et al., 2014). In Key West, officials followed a similar model. They
transformed the downtown area into a panhandling-free zone and sent homeless violators to
Stock Island’s encampment, strategically located next to the county jail. The facility is governed
by strict rules that hinder any opportunity for homeless activism (Longley, 2006). It is also miles
from downtown, near a landfill dubbed “Mount Trashmore” (Carlson, 2004). Thus, the city
channels homeless people who would otherwise be destined for jail into a sanctioned
encampment that functions simultaneously as a jail and an ad hoc shelter space.
While sanctioned encampments limit homeless autonomy, they often provide amenities
that illegal tent cities do not, including sanitation infrastructure, access to regular meals, and
security. Sanctioned camps also create opportunities for residents to access much-needed
services, such as healthcare or counseling. Yet it is only through government sanction that such
encampments are able to access resources, which suggests that people must be disciplined to
receive assistance. The concept of the “tent ward” acknowledges this dualistic function of
sanctioned encampments as spaces of homeless welfare on the one hand, and surveillance and
segregation on the other.
Beyond the tent ward, the contemporary era is notable for the proliferation of detention
and refugee camps, which are similarly driven by a combination of care and protection, as well
as custody and control (Minca, 2015). Agamben (1998) theorized the camp as the spatial
paradigm of modernity and an expression of the crisis of the nation-state’s ability to govern its
territory. He argued that nation-states transcend this crisis by creating camp spacesterritories
outside of the normal juridical order where the protections of national citizenship no longer
apply. Minca (2015, p. 79) describes the camp as “a topology of power that, in the name of
custody and protection, isolates its inmates from the rest of society, in the attempt to cleanse the
body politic from their corrupting or compromising presence.” Those who occupy such spaces
are banned from the protections of the state while also made vulnerable by that ban. They are
thus paradoxically both inside and outside the state, subject to it and excluded from its
protections. Through camps, the state contains the mobility of those with “no clear identity and
fixed location” and interns them in a “spatial limbo, marked by the ambivalence of permanent
temporariness” (Minca 2015, p. 80).
Today, refugees represent key figures in theorizations of the camp, as they live
permanently between camp spaces, with no clear place of belonging. Scholars have theorized
refugee encampments as both quasi-carceral spaces (Felder, Minca and Ong, 2014) and sites of
“compassionate repression” (Darling, 2009). As the rise of the tent ward suggests, homeless
encampments present a similar paradigm at the scale of the city. Although homeless people are
not legally understood as internally displaced, they embody the underlying condition of
placelessness that camps have historically sought to regulate. Homeless people in the USas
indicated by the terms “vagrant” and “vagabond”—have long been characterized as strangers
from elsewhere (Rahimian, et al. 1992). Today, social service agencies often perpetuate the
“magnet myth” that homeless people are outsiders who flock to locations where services are
well-provided (Foy, 2016). These mythologies of homeless outsiderness are grounded in notions
of citizenship as property. Roy (2003, p. 476) writes that in the US, “as the paradigm of
citizenship has come to be tied to property ownership, so the homeless have been seen as
trespassers in the space of the nation-state.” Arnold (2004) similarly argues that US citizenship is
grounded in property ownership. She describes homeless people’s condition of being excluded
within the space of the nation as akin to Agamben’s description of homo sacerbare or naked
life condemned to exist in liminal camps spaces. This exclusion can be seen as spatially and
materially manifested over the past decade through the creation of tent wards.
Yet while camps resemble carceral spaces, they are distinct in that they are temporary
sites, spatially designed to exist for a limited duration. Martin and Mitchelson (2009) further
distinguish detention from incarceration in that inmates are not convicted of a crime but rather
labeled with an indeterminate status and held in permanent limbo with no recourse to legal
protections. In the US, homeless people in state custody are often viewed through both
paradigms: as a criminal population, and as a group with no status or place of belonging. In this
way, they sit at the nexus between detention and incarceration. As cities have increasingly co-
opted and controlled homeless communities on the street, they have developed new sites of
homelessness management that blur the boundaries between camps and carceral spaces. In the
section that follows, I examine how officials in Fresno, California imagined the space of the tent
ward and how camp residents resisted its logics of incarceration.
Fresno, California has long held the distinction of being one of the poorest cities in the
US. In 2011, it also had the second-highest rate of homelessness in the nation (NAEH, 2012).
Fresno has limited and disciplinary options for overnight shelter. To get a bed, homeless men
must enter a drug treatment program either at the Rescue Mission or Poverello House. As a
result, many homeless Fresnans rejected shelters “as too confining and conformist” (Hostetter,
2008). One camper opted to leave a shelter because “the limitations of that place were driving
him nuts” (Saunders, 2009). Another man, Frank, told me in an interview, “I could never go stay
in that Mission because they force certain things on you. … You have to do this. You have to do
that.” A 2013 survey asked more than 400 homeless Fresnans to identify an agency they trusted,
and only 10% of respondents listed a shelter (“Fresno Madera,” 2013, p. 29). Partly as a result of
limited shelter options, beginning in 2002, multiple large-scale homeless encampments began to
develop near the downtown area (Herring and Lutz, 2015). Encampments became increasingly
spatially concentrated in the wake of a series of strict anti-homeless initiatives, including an anti-
panhandling law and crackdowns on loitering and shopping cart possession (NLCHP, 2014).
Over the years, the city seesawed between tolerating the encampmentssometimes for long
stretchesand bulldozing them completely. In 2004, officials began seeking an alternative.
As part of a new initiative, the city collaborated with the Poverello House—Fresno’s
largest homeless service centerto create a sanctioned encampment on the same site where an
illegal encampment was previously demolished. The “Village of Hope” was comprised of tents
arranged in rows and surrounded by a high fence, in stark contrast to the illegal tent cities
clustered just outside the fence. The city re-zoned the property as a campground, bypassing
building codes that required running water, weather-safe materials, and fixed sanitation. Over
time, the tents were replaced by 66 tool sheds arranged in the style of an army barracks, each
containing two cots and sleeping bags. At the Village, residents could not keep pets, were subject
to random property searches, and had to abide by restrictions on romantic partnering. They were
forced to leave early in the morning and were locked out of their sheds if they returned too late in
the evening (Kincaid, et al. v. Fresno, 2006). Nonetheless, the project provided people with
security and allowed homeless residents to maintain a semblance of autonomy (Herring and
Lutz, 2015). The Village was touted as a success and as a “mutually supportive” and “self
governing” community (Levine & Glassel, 2004).
By 2007, the city council voted to create a second encampment on the shelter’s property.
Under the agreement, the Community of Hope was born, with the Poverello House to receive
$10,000 per month for operating costs (NCH, 2010). The Community afforded residents fewer
opportunities for self-governance than the Village of Hope. The Poverello House maintained
“absolute control” over the Community and mandated a ban on drugs, alcohol, flames, candles,
incense, and “untidy space” (City of Fresno, 2007). Residents were required to perform two shifts
of security each week and forced to leave the camp each morning (NCH, 2010). Both
encampments, which sat adjacent to each other on the same property, were referred to
collectively as “The Villages.”
In 2013, I interviewed officials who were involved in the creation of these facilities to get
a sense of how and why they were developed. Jim Connell, the executive director of the
Poverello House, told me about his role in the creation of The Villages:
In an effort to get the illegal encampment cleaned up, I said we could fence off an area
and put tents in there for those that were willing to agree to some sort of rules. And so
what we did was we gathered those people together and said, “Look, we’ll do this, but
you people have to be involved.”
He told me The Villages closed during the day “to encourage people to get out and go find a job,
do something.” His language illuminates his perceived responsibility to “gather people together”
and implies that homeless people will not “do something” with their lives unless they are
coerced. Within the shelter itself, a large windowless building adjacent to The Villages where
people received daily meal services, beds were provided to those who had entered a drug
treatment program. Most people sleeping overnight at the shelter were completing jail diversion
requirements. Connell described the program:
It’s a pretty structured program. They have homework they have to do…. They’re
assigned a job. … They have a jail sentence hanging over their head, which gives them a
little encouragement to stay in the program. ... You’ve got to start training them, re-
socializing them. You get up in the morning. You brush your teeth. You make your bed.
They’ve lost all those disciplines. If your job starts at 8 o’clock, you’re there at 8 o’clock.
It’s sort of a retraining process and them taking responsibility for their lives.
Thus, the shelter collaborated closely with law enforcement agencies and promoted paternalistic
policies aimed at normalizing residents. The Villages, as extensions of the shelter, followed a
similar rationale.
Robert Levine, a psychology professor and board member of the Poverello House, helped
oversee the management of The Villages. He co-authored an article with Ron Glassel, one of the
founding residents of the Village of Hope. Levine and Glassel (2004) conclude with a series of
Should residents be required to demonstrate progress toward finding jobs and/or stable
housing? Should there be absolute limitssay 90 days or one yearon stays? And, if so,
what will happen to the lifers? In a new experiment, residents will be required to come up
with an individual development plan for the next six months. The effects of this
requirement will be closely monitored. With winter coming, Poverello House is currently
replacing the tents with more durable and weather-resistant structures. Even this,
however, raises questions: Will more comfortable quarters discourage residents from
moving forward? (Levine & Glassel, 2004)
The hesitance to provide residents a modicum of comfort suggests that homeless people might
rise above their conditions if they are uncomfortable enough to want something better. These
sentimentsalthough grounded in care and compassionare also rooted in the idea that
homelessness is the result of individual failures, rather than structural poverty and inequality. In
this way, benefaction becomes tinged with authority and coercion.
Sherry Oliver, who ran a local women’s shelter, also supported the creation of a
sanctioned camp. She envisioned strict top-down organization, and praised Professor Levine’s
efforts in directing “the social organization” of The Villages. She further rejected the provision
of support to existing encampments and instead advocated for the need to bring in an expertin
this case, a university professorto develop entirely new encampments. As with Connell and
Levine, she saw self-made homeless communities as incapable of creating positive social
organization. Oliver also identified location as a key aspect of any proposed encampment and
saw spatial segregation as a strategy to prevent certain neighborhoods from bearing the burden of
homelessness. She said:
It is an issue of location, because obviously you don’t want this encampment to be
located here. That’s hurting your services and your ability to provide them. And then I
think that becomes a problem for whatever neighborhood it’s located in. … Up here, it’s
right in people’s back yards.
Oliver envisioned a camp remote from residential areas so that no-one’s “backyard” would be
affected by its presence. Thus, the official camps should not only be regulated but also invisible
and spatially predetermined.
In 2007, several city officials advocated for the creation of a 30,000 square-foot
encampment in an industrial neighborhood south of downtown. The lot had no access to shade
and was fenced in on all sides. The mayor envisioned an encampment that would be monitored
by the county. Simultaneously, the city proposed an ordinance to ban camping. At the city
council meeting debating both proposals, councilmember Jerry Duncan characterized the
camping ban as “a consequence to people not wanting to become productive citizens” (City
Council, 2007). On a local conservative talk radio show, he announced the proposal’s goal to
remove all encampments from the downtown area and contain Fresno's homeless community on
a plot of land where they would not be as visible (Rhodes, 2007b). Not only was the plan aimed
at making homelessness invisible, but it also was a “consequence” for people who failed to
“become productive.” Thus, Councilman Duncan did not only frame the plan as a way to shelter
people, but to punish them for not working and render them invisible to the wider public.
Larry Arce, former probation officer and CEO of the Rescue Mission, was one of the
driving forces behind the proposal for the remote sanctioned camp. When I asked about his
vision for the site, he explained:
We’ll designate that area. If you want to camp out, you don’t want to go into a program,
you have to go here. But also what our intent was, the only place you can go to, we’ll
concentrate services there, like probation, parole, court services, social security, all the
different things that the homeless need. ... And then the intent is to funnel them into a
program. You can only be there so long, but in the meantime while you’re here, we’re
making an assessment of putting you into a program.
Thus, Arce’s vision involved criminalization of homelessness, such that homeless people would
have only one place to go in the city, where management and criminal justice systems could
“funnel” them into various programs. He viewed the tent ward as an instrument by which the city
could filter the complex and ungoverned crowd that resides in homeless encampments into
different spaces of surveillance and containment. According to his vision, criminals would go to
jail, the mentally ill to institutions, and addicts into programs.
Arce’s model for the tent ward resembles the way he ran the Mission. The shelter
previously had an open-door policy until Arce began requiring residents to conform to a strict
Bible-based drug treatment program. He told me that once he initiated the new program and “got
rid of the deadbeats,” shelter residency was drastically reduced. He saw homelessness and drug
addiction as a form of sin: “You rebelled against society. You rebelled against your family. You
rebelled against God. You want to do your own thing. You don’t want nobody to tell you what to
do. And that’s sin.” Thus, shelter at Fresno’s Rescue Mission was attached to submission to
religious norms. The Mission also oversaw an outdoor jail facility and partnered with the police
department to commit intoxicated men for a 24-hour period, including during sweltering hot
summers and freezing winters. Local activists have called this site a “drunk tank” and a
“concentration camp” (Rhodes, 2004). One activist who had previously worked in a drug
treatment facility told me, “There have been times when the Rescue Mission has people detox in
their parking lot with no supervision, and people [can] die because of that.” This outdoor “detox”
space was akin to Arce’s vision for a sanctioned encampment that would function as an ad hoc
space to contain “rebellious” communities.
Mike Rhodes is a local activist involved in homelessness advocacy. He told me in an
interview that Bruce Rudd, the Assistant City Manager at the time, asked if he could “get
everybody to go [to the proposed encampment].” Rhodes recalled that Rudd’s request framed
homeless people as childlike and compliant: “I said, ‘What do I look like to you? The pied piper
of the homeless?’” He described the first time he saw the site for the proposed encampment:
It’s pretty desolate area. And so the place had a fence around it all. There was no shade,
and there was like just tons of goat head thorns, which are these really harsh thorns that,
you step on them, you know it. ...Why would anybody go there, and live in the hot sun?
There’s no shade. There’s no services. There’s nothing there.
In highlighting the lack of services, Rhodes was not referring to the “court services” that Arce
envisioned, but rather to the lack of food, water, sanitation, or health services available nearby.
As with many sanctioned camps in cities across the nation, officials predetermined the location
without consulting homeless communities, and selected a site that was distant from visible
downtown spaces as well as the services that are essential to homeless people’s survival. This
predetermined and remote siting is yet another manifestation of the spatial control of homeless
people’s lives. Yet the plan was vehemently rejected by nearby industrial businesses, as well as
local homeless people, and it failed before it was ever built.
In 2013, the city again floated plans to build a remote tent city south of the downtown
area, immediately adjacent to the railroad tracks and a recycling facility. The neighborhood was
a thirty-minute walk from services and had few sidewalks or pedestrian pathways. When I
visited the site, the area was completely fenced in, had no shade, and was riddled with thorns. It
seemed to repeat the 2007 plan. Meanwhile, officials also sought to create a homeless campus,
following the model of St. Petersberg’s “jail-ter” and San Antonio’s Haven for Hope, which
include a concrete area for hundreds of homeless people to sleep on mats in the open air
(Hayward, 2011). Fresno officials traveled to San Antonio to learn from the model, and several
officials told me it was the direction Fresno planned for the future. In seeking a consultant on the
project, the Fresno Business Council and several homelessness agencies hired Robert Marbut,
the CEO of Haven for Hope, a man who regularly advises cities on homelessness management
and has been referred to as a “homelessness guru” (Dunwoody, 2014).
In his advisory report, Marbut recommended that Fresno unite homeless services with the
criminal justice system. In particular, he proposed a project that would be located near the jail to
maximize jail diversion efforts and bring homeless individuals into “365 days-a-year
programming” (Marbut, 2014, p. 9). The project would include intensive screening and “low-
demand shelter” (Marbut, 2014, p. 22). Marbut wrote:
A physical fencing barrier needs to line the facility. If possible, foliage or other screening
should be integrated within the fencing system to create a visually aesthetic barrier.
Additionally, the structures within the come-as-you-are center need to be laid out in such
a way as to create positive ergonomic flow and defensible space. (Marbut, 2014, p. 23)
Marbut also explicitly recommended a model of reward and punishment: “Too often there are no
consequences for negative behavior of individuals. Unfortunately, this sends a message that bad
behavior is acceptable. Within the transformational process, it is critical to have swift and
proportionate consequences” (Marbut, 2014, p. 32). Again, the proposal for a sanctioned
encampment was rooted in the quest for homeless surveillance and confinement.
In cities across the US, sanctioned encampments often do not appeal to homeless people
as a viable option for shelter. Even when city-developed encampments provide superior access to
amenities and food, homeless people often prefer self-organized encampments for the
“community, autonomy, and privacy” they afford residents (Wright, 1997, p. 249). As
Ehrenreich (2009) wrote of Ontario’s encampment, “The rules were infantilizing. … More than a
third of those permitted to stay in the [encampment] have left for good.” In Fresno, the situation
was similar. Despite the lack of alternative shelter, in the summer of 2006, the occupancy rate at
The Villages was only 50-60% (Kincaid, et al. v. Fresno, 2006). When I asked Jim Connell about
the low occupancy in 2013, he speculated that it was because residents were not allowed to use
drugs. He did not suggest that the desire for autonomy might also be a compelling reason.
LoriAnne Tennison, a onetime resident of the Community of Hope, spoke out against
The Villages. She recalled that every evening, shelter staff would open the door to her shed to
make sure she was there. When she asked staff to knock first, they refused. Staff also took away
extra sleeping bags she had procured to protect herself against the cold, and threatened to kick
out any resident seen interacting with “street people,” including their own family members
(Tennison, 2011). In an article published in the local progressive newspaper called “Surviving
the Village,” Tennison (2011) wrote that stringent rules are “meant to take away whatever
personal power that a person may possess, to destroy the ability of self-determination.”
Ultimately, she was kicked out for failing to be present at a 4:30 am homelessness survey. She
wrote: “I am now one of those ‘bad people’ who live on the street and sleep in a tent.”
Louis, a middle-aged man who had recently received supportive housing, had previously
elected to live in a street encampment because the rules at The Villages were too restrictive. He
told me in an interview, “I couldn’t stay there. I had sources of going there, but I had to have my
own tent. I like to come and go as I please. … They kick you out in the morning and you can’t
come back till a certain time in the day.” Management also had the power to kick people out
permanently. Brandy, a 21-year-old pregnant woman told me that she was recently forced to
They said because me being pregnant, I’m considered a health risk. So at six months I
had to leave. … It’s not necessarily [that I wanted to have] a baby in the shed. It’s just
keeping stable until you get somewhere to go, which I didn’t even have the chance to.
Frank, who lived at the Village of Hope when I interviewed him, told me he had to “break down”
to follow the pervasive rules: “There’s rules everywhere. You just got to learn and break down
and follow the rules. And if you don’t do that, you’re bye-bye. You’re back out there.” While
sanctioned encampments provided security, aid, and access to sanitation, they often stripped
people of whatever sense of autonomy they possessed.
Homeless Fresnans also publicly voiced their opposition to the creation of new tent
wards. In 2007, tent city residents spoke out at a City Council meeting against the proposed
30,000 square foot encampment. Speaking before the council, Alphonso Williams, a prominent
homeless activist, said, “you are trying to put people into a concentration camp. … I’d rather be
in jail than a concentration camp” (Rhodes, 2007b). Homeless activists also pushed for the
legalization of autonomous street encampments. Cynthia Greene spoke against a proposed anti-
camping ordinance, saying, “If this ordinance is passed it will be challenged. It was challenged in
Los Angeles and they had to back down because it is not good for the people” (Rhodes, 2007b).
One camper said what people need most is a “someplace that they can go 24/7 without worrying
about having to leave” (KNXT1, 2012). Collectively, protesters argued that by funneling all
campers into a single heavily surveilled site, the city was stripping away the heterogeneity and
autonomy of existing communities.
Yet officials I spoke with were consistently opposed to the notion of legalizing existing
campsites. A local councilman saw it as an impossible project:
Because of liability, the city would probably have to have a fence around it. The city
would probably regulate who came in and went out. The city would probably have to
have police officers there, or security people there. And there’s one thing I know about
homeless, is they don’t go where police officers and security people are. So I think it’s a
He saw securitization and fencing as necessary and inevitable, yet he knew it was not a solution
local campers would accept. Jim Connell also opposed legalized camping. He said, “Some
people came up with the idea of sort of a legalized campground. … It really doesn’t work
because it degenerates into what we’ve got going on now. The whole criminal element taking
control of it.” When I asked him what distinguished an illegal encampment from The Villages,
he said, “We control sort of the element that goes in there. That’s the piece we control with The
Villages. We keep out the criminal element.” Thus, he viewed management and screening as
necessary components of any successful homeless community. Levine and Glassel (2004)
articulated a similar rationale in describing the encampment that was demolished to make room
for the Village of Hope:
The shantytown began innocently enough but, by December, was plagued by violence,
drugs, prostitution, open fires and filth. The police and Poverello House decided to tear
down the shantytown and to simultaneously create an alternative facility for those willing
to obey the law.
The description of street encampments as filthy and criminal implies that homeless self-
governance is a dangerous enterprise and that a competent caretaker must intervene to protect the
community from itself. This language also illuminates the way in which discourses of homeless
criminality come to shape the spaces where homeless people can exist in the city.
Yet Fresno homelessness management was not a monolith, but a complex landscape
marked both by care and criminalization. The city was home to a well-organized church-based
advocacy group that brought weekly donations to homeless encampments. Local activists also
made a private residence available for a small group of campers to reside in semi-permanent
outdoor shanties, with access to a vegetable garden and collective kitchen facilities. Further,
many people who worked in the shelter system expressed empathy for those experiencing the
hardships of homelessness. Two officials I interviewed were frustrated with the tent ward model.
A manager at the Fresno Housing Authority told me she did not believe in “warehousing the
homeless.” Another official with the county said of the proposal:
What I'm afraid of is we become complacent if we don't have to see people anymore. …
We're not going to incorporate them into society. We’re gonna house them over here in
this one district and it's policed and there's barbed wire on top and there's people with
guns that don't let you out of there. ... It just makes it easier to push the problem aside.
Yet both officials rejected homeless campers’ requests for support and legalization of currently
existing encampments. Thus, they saw no option but to yield to the dominant ideology that
supported the tent ward model.
Beyond the tent ward proposals, homelessness management more broadly was often
framed through the lens of law enforcement. In July 2013, a man was shot and killed near one of
the encampments. Although neither of the suspects were homeless, the city argued that homeless
encampments were the source of the violence. The Fresno Bee issued an article stating, “The
murder in the Santa Clara camp last year was a tipping point. City officials said the camps had to
be razed because they were public-safety hazards to homeless and non-homeless alike. No one
can ever again suggest otherwise” (Hostetter, 2014). After the shooting, Fresno police began an
aggressive arrest campaign in the encampments. The city issued a press release stating that the
camps were riddled with criminal activity, as there had been 82 arrests over the past several
weeks. The police chief said of the encampments:
There is a misperception that people at the encampments are simply folks who are down
on their luck. … The reality is that gang members and other criminals have moved there
and are taking advantage of the people who are truly homeless. (Hastings, 2013)
Yet when I interviewed the police chief, he told me that most of the arrests were for outstanding
warrants and parole violations. Among the people arrested for violent crimes, only one of them
lived at the encampments. Although most homeless arrests were for minor offenses, officials
responded with an unprecedented wave of demolitions. Not only did the city announce that it
would destroy every encampment in the city, but it also set up a police “task force” to prevent
anyone from camping in the future.
Fresno is a historically conservative city, and the police department has long been a
powerful local influence. In 2012, nearly 80% of the city’s budget went to public safety, much of
which went to the police department (Hostetter, 2012). Advocates have charged that community
block grant money for the homeless was rerouted to the police department for evictions (Rhodes,
2007a). In 2013, the police department quickly became a primary driver behind Fresno’s eviction
policies. Simultaneously, it was integral to the Continuum of Care, the local network of homeless
management organizations, along with four other law enforcement and corrections agencies
(Continuum of Care, 2012). Jails themselves also took on a key role in the management of
homelessness. In 2013, the county jail was so overcrowded it had to plan for a major expansion.
Even Marbut (2014, p. 14), in his report recommending highly disciplinary camp spaces,
acknowledges that Fresno’s emergency room and the jail became “the de facto alternatives to
treatment,” which led to “the overloading of the criminal justice and emergency health service
Beyond the police department, shelter operators I spoke with also characterized
encampments as sites of heightened criminality. Sherry Oliver was concerned when I told her I
was doing interviews in the camps. She said, “I wouldn’t want to walk down the middle of that
street. I drive down there because I want to see what’s going on. Now I doubt that they’d harm
us because they know who we are. But I certainly wouldn’t carry a purse.” Jim Connell
advocated for police intervention, saying:
That encampment out there, if I had to guess, is 98% there because of drugs. … Even if
you could house everybody who’s amenable to housing, you’re still going to have a
certain population left on the street that’s the criminal and addictive element and the
criminal justice system has to deal with those people.
Robert Marbut similarly claimed that violent crimes were common in the encampments:
The homeless encampments in Fresno have taken on a structure and scope not seen
anywhere in the USA. ... Fresno’s encampments resemble the impoverished shantytowns
of Africa and Latin America. ... There are several indictors [sic] that the encampments are
one of the most (if not the most) violent homeless populations in the United States.
Stabbings, shootings and arson fires are routine occurrences within these encampments.
(Marbut, 2014, p. 6)
In evoking the horror of shantytowns in “Africa and Latin America,” Marbut promotes racist
tropes about dangerous black and brown communities outside the US. Snow, Baker and
Anderson (1989) argue that the perception of the homeless as dangerous is not uncommon,
despite the fact that homeless people do not commit violent crimes more often than the
population at large. Such discourses of homeless criminality mirror the racism that undergirds
larger structures of US policing and mass incarceration. They further ignore that for many, the
camps were places of security and had their own organization with intrinsic leadership and
provision of services.
Homeless people I spoke with overwhelmingly resisted portrayals of the camps as
criminal hotbeds. Mary, who lived in an encampment near an irrigation canal, told me in an
interview, “They think we’re all drug addicts. … We’re all individual people, you know. There’s
assholes in every group, but we’re not here by choice.” In a news report on the encampment
evictions, Virginia Lopez said, “They say that this is all happening because of all the crimes and
all the drugs and all of that. Well, we’re not even into that” (thefresnobee, 2013). Indeed, camp
residents overwhelmingly represented encampments as safe and collectively organized
neighborhood spaces (Speer 2016; 2017). As Virginia Garcia said of her tent city neighbors,
“They want to be around other people. They feel safer” (Hostetter, 2008). In a radio interview,
Nancy Holmes echoed a similar sentiment: “Until I was found and went to [this] camp, that’s the
only time during my homeless time that I felt at home and I felt safe” (Homelessness Marathon,
2014). These statements stand in stark contrast to official representations of street encampments
as dangerous spaces in desperate need of surveillance and policing.
Beyond Fresno, street encampments provide a unique space where homeless people can
resist the pathologizing and punitive aspects of homelessness management (Mitchell, 2012;
Sparks, 2017). Yet as cities turn to sanctioned camps instead of shelters, they establish a
disturbing precedent in the geographies of homelessness management. Beyond linking carceral
and welfarist modes of governance, tent wards also evoke the long historical legacy of camps as
sites of state brutality. As Sparks (2017, p. 353-354) writes:
It is a perverse present in which … camps are the only places where the houseless might
have some hope of exercising their most basic human rights. … If the twentieth century
taught us anything, it is that when camps become spaces for confinement and quarantine
for society’s unwanted, things seldom turn out well. This danger looms especially large
when those who must live in the camps are considered deviant, less than human, and
unable to speak or act in their own best interest.
This danger becomes even starker when camp spaces are co-opted by state and private
authorities. Fresno’s push for tent wards suggests that officials do not criminalize camping
because they are opposed to people living in tents and shanties, but rather because illegal
encampments provide collective, ungovernable space. While tent wards provide people a safe
place to sleep at nighthowever temporary and inadequatethey simultaneously deny them the
ability to produce their own urban spaces or govern their own mobility.
The carceral approach to homelessness itself is never all-encompassing, as each city has
its own complex history and politics of homelessness management. Indeed, many cities have
well-funded shelter and housing systems and are developing innovative ways of responding to
homeless encampments. Fresno, with its intractable problems of extreme poverty, underfunded
services, and failure to revitalize, experienced intense political pressure to remove and contain
homeless autonomy and mobility. Yet even in Fresno, small acts of care and compassion
provided respite for homeless campers amidst the brutality of evictions and criminalization.
Indeed, local officials developed tent wards not only to manage homelessness through the logic
of crime, but to create new spaces for service provision. It was precisely this combination of
welfare and discipline that made submission—or as Frank said, “breaking down and following
the rules”—a prerequisite to receiving much-needed aid. This process shows how carceral modes
of homelessness management became pervasive in Fresno, and how the social crisis of poverty
was reduced to problem of spatially managing homeless people themselves.
Beyond Fresno, tent wards shed light on a larger nexus between welfare and
incarceration. In cities that prioritize the goal of spatial management and discipline, quasi-
carceral spaces have become a tool through which to provide homeless services. In turn, such
services have been reduced to the bare minimum: tents, tool sheds, and mattresses in the open
air. As temporary and easily dismantled sites, tent wards are a relatively affordable and flexible
means for local governments to provide emergency services in the ongoing crisis of
homelessness, while also surveilling homeless people and relocating them away from prime
urban areas. In this way, tent wards demonstrate the historical failure of US cities to create
lasting and equitable platforms that address the problems of urban poverty, and to instead
identify poor people as a problematic population that must be cared for, as well as spatially
The phenomenon of tent wards also reveals connections between carceral and camp
spaces more broadly. While camps are temporary sites to manage and provide for those who are
otherwise placeless, incarceration solidifies the makeshift nature of the camp. As with
Agamben’s notion of the camp, incarceration creates a category of placeless “others” by moving
people to distant and confined spaces, stripping them of their full rights, and denying them
control over the geographies of their lives. In this light, both camps and carceral spaces are stop-
gap measures that seek to produce and contain outsiders to avoid confronting the pressing and
intractable problems of social inequality and exclusion. Thus, and perhaps most importantly,
carceral space can be understood as a temporary fixrather than a static or permanent project
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... In this way, organized encampments are seen as "a spatial tool of containment for the local state" which help displace and thus lessen the "threat" of visible houselessness throughout urban landscapes (Herring, 2014: 306). Speer (2018) argues that some organized encampments function akin to "tent wards," as spaces of carcerality, whereby the surveillance and discipline of the state is ever present through encampment regulations. Here, the sanctioning and regulation of houseless encampments is another means of further pathologizing contemporary approaches to poverty management by municipal and state governments. ...
... And unlike most legally sanctioned encampments around the U.S., most of Portland's encampments are organized through self-governance and operate on municipally owned properties which serve no other government purpose. This contrasts with many sanctioned encampments across the country which are run top-down, guided by a strong regulatory state which does not allow for residents to collectively manage their own affairs (Speer, 2018). And the few encampments that are collectively organized outside of Portland have traditionally been mobile. ...
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With the rise of organized houseless encampments or “tent cities” around the U.S., scholars have begun to address the social-spatial effects of encampments on houseless peoples’ lives. This scholarship has primarily explained the development of organized encampments as an effect of neoliberal modes of governance as municipalities have sought to offload responsibility for caring for the houseless or to discipline houseless people by containing them through the regulative force of the state. Such explanations address the culpability of the state in relation to capital which shapes houseless peoples’ lives. Yet, they leave unaddressed one critical component of houseless encampments: that relations surrounding property ensure that houseless encampment residents remain property-insecure and without a guaranteed right to remain. Through a case study of self-governing houseless encampments in Portland, Oregon, the article advances a relational analysis of property and citizenship to show how self-governing houseless communities are denied key privileges of citizenship that democratic self-governance is intended to realize. In doing so, the case study examines the very tradeoffs houseless encampment residents must make when living in an encampment. The paper ends suggesting that Portland’s encampment model allows us to more clearly see the consequences of establishing collective rights to access property within liberal property systems, and from this, where political and scholarly attention ought to be placed to better protect houseless people through a more democratic right to remain.
... The topic of counting the homeless population remains contentious, considering the history of the criminalization of the homeless (Shlay and Rossi 1992;Stuart 2015;Cooper 2017;Speer 2018), evolving conceptual definitions of homelessness (Cordray and Pion 1991;Leginski 2007; National Alliance to End Homelessness 2012a), as well as epistemological and methodological challenges shared among direct estimation methods (Breakey and Fischer 1990;Jocoy and Del Casino 2010). Specific to PIT counts, scholars pointed out the persistent undercounting of youth and unsheltered adults (Lin et al. 2017;Stanley 2017;Tsukerman et al. 2021), temporal and seasonal factors affecting the capturing of counts (Cowan, Breakey, and Fischer 1986;Cordray 1990), and the overall difficulty of consistent and exhaustive sampling of the homeless population (Schneider, Brisson, and Burnes 2016). ...
... HG plays a prominent role herein because it is the only citytolerated encampment that, at the time of fieldwork, did not have an official land use agreement with the City. represent the failure of the capitalist city to provide for its residents (Mitchell, 2013), as the result of governments offloading their responsibility for poverty management (Herring & Lutz, 2015), or as "tent wards" which effectively extend the punitive regulations of the carceral state (Speer, 2018). Encampment spaces have also been recognized for their ability to convene community, allowing residents to organize politically, albeit at the margins of the formal political sphere (Parker, 2020;Przybylinski, 2020;Sparks, 2012). ...
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This paper argues that geographers ought to pay closer attention to the role of property relations within political liberalism. Developing on the idea that propertied-citizenship excludes houseless or other property-insecure people from space, the paper argues that property-insecure people are instead incorporated within the relations of property. Examining how houseless people are incorporated within rather than outside of property, illustrates how key values of property long-held in liberalism are maintained and used to devalue a sense of social and political autonomy for the property-insecure. After tracing the dialectical relations of property with citizenship through the historical emergence of American liberalism, the paper examines how the values connecting property with citizenship continue to diminish the livelihoods of houseless people. Based on ethnographic research with self-governed houseless encampments in Portland, Oregon, I analyze how opposition to these unique types of houseless shelter affect encampment residents. What we are able to see from Portland's encampments, I argue, are the broader limitations of citizenship within liberalism which continue to be demarcated through a proper social order defined by property.
This article examines the geopolitics and geo-economics of security and surveillance. We comparatively focus on the effects of geopolitically powerful states – China and the United States – and their influence over the use of surveillance technologies in the name of spatial security in relatively weaker states – Nepal and Afghanistan. We use these two areas of comparison to address the similarities in security logics across disparate spaces and to highlight the everyday experiences and responses to both outside influence from powerful states and national security regimes. Through interview data from our respective qualitative research in Afghanistan and Nepal, we show how the logics of security situates particular racialized and gendered bodies as suspicious and examine how individuals living in these spaces experience, understand, and challenge these security regimes. We conclude by arguing for more comparative studies of security technologies and surveillance regimes. Additionally, we view these spaces of heightened security as potential sites for increased violence, rather than security.
This intervention argues for a German carceral geography that takes the framework of abolition seriously to develop a deeper understanding and critique of the exercise of power in institutional space. My claim is that we need to adapt abolition as a theoretical perspective and form of knowledge that allows us to expand the analysis of carceral practices and rationalities beyond imprisonment to include other institutional spaces of racializing, classing and disabling marginalisation.
Purpose The authors investigate two contrasting, yet mutually constitutive strategies for regulating open drug scenes in the city of Aarhus, Denmark: A strategy of dispersing marginalized substance users from the inner city, and a simultaneous strategy of inclusion in a new, gentrifying neighbourhood. Design/methodology/approach The authors apply a multi-temporal ethnography approach, including data from studies dating back to 2002. This enables us to scrutinize reconfigurations of processes of exclusion and inclusion in urban city life based on studies that in different ways feed into the broader picture of how socially marginalized citizens are included and excluded in urban space. Findings The municipality of Aarhus sways between strategies of dispersion and exclusion and those of inclusion of marginalized citizens. Taken together, these strategies constitute a “messy middle ground” (May and Cloke, 2014) in responses to the street people rather than either clear-cut punitive or supportive strategies. Finally, we point to the limit of inclusion in more recent strategies aimed at including marginalized citizens in urban planning of a new, gentrifying neighbourhood. Originality/value The article builds on studies that in critical engagement with the dominating focus on punitive or revanchist approaches to regulation of homeless citizens' presence in urban space have shown how such regulating practices are rarely punishing alone. We contribute to this literature by showing how seemingly contradictory attempts to exclude, disperse and include socially marginalized citizens in different urban settings are relational rather than in outright opposition. In continuation of this, we show how dispersal strategies both depend on and are legitimized by the promotion of alternative and more inclusive settings elsewhere.
Since urban homelessness first appeared in modern cities, it has served as an indicator of the current socio-spatial order and of its change. Here, we turn our attention to cities in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in an attempt to discuss homelessness and social change through these cities’ specific historicity and their story of transition from state-socialism to a, mostly, neoliberalized global economy. We argue that this endeavor opens inspiration and new perspectives on: (1) the post-socialist (urban) transformation; (2) urban homelessness as a socio-material experience; (3) the political aspects of informal practices. Relying on research in various spatial and temporal contexts, authors in the special issue inquire into an alternative politics of living in current (post-socialist) cities. They shed light on how homelessness and the lives of people who struggle with housing precarity codefine change, and how they become active agents of urban transformation.
By “thinking conjuncturally”, this article urges urban geographers to rethink the site of encampments as a space for cultural intervention in urban planning and development. Drawing on content analysis of archival records, this article provides a case study of Black‐led and supported encampment communities in the 1980s and 1990s in Los Angeles. These encampment communities emerged in a critical moment when Los Angeles became the homeless capital of the nation while the demographics of the homeless became predominantly Black. The article shows the emergence of encampment communities as both a result of rising homelessness and as a necessity for creating life‐fulfilling alternatives. As such, these include sonic critiques, cooperative planning, forming a commons, and a poetic ethnography against the carceral organisation of homelessness. The article shows that to understand homelessness and crisis, geographers must take seriously the site of the encampment as an emerging cultural intervention.
In this article, I analyze ongoing changes in the field of homelessness governance in Portland, Oregon (USA) to understand the underlying rationale behind current shifts toward a so-called compassionate approach to homelessness. Based on fieldwork carried out in Portland, this paper analyses the increased inclusion of outreach practices in the management of homelessness in both policing and city policies. To gain an understanding of how policies are implemented on the ground, I focus on the management of homeless encampments. This paper then outlines how this rise in homelessness outreach practices is closely related to encampment cleanups and the invisibilization of homeless people through a “compassionate eviction” from public space.
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Based on an analysis of housing projects and homeless encampments in Fresno, California, this paper argues that both anti-homeless policing and housing provision mutually constrain homeless people's expressions of home, such that struggles over domestic space have become integral to the contemporary politics of US homelessness. In particular, this article asserts that contemporary homelessness policy is marked by a clash between competing visions of home. While housing projects in Fresno are based on a model of privatized and surveilled apartments, people who lived in local encampments often asserted alternative notions of home grounded in community rather than family, mutual care rather than institutional care, and appropriation rather than consumption. Meanwhile, local officials viewed such alternative domestic spaces as non-homes worthy of destruction. Rather than valorizing domestic struggles above public or institutional struggles, this article seeks to move beyond geographic binaries to more holistically approach the politics of US homelessness.
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In 2013, Fresno, California was home to more than 5,000 homeless people, many of whom took refuge in sprawling downtown encampments. Citing unsanitary conditions, Fresno officials implemented a policy of bulldozing the encampments while providing housing vouchers to a small number of residents. Yet homeless Fresnans by and large demanded the provision of sanitation in the encampments as an alternative to eviction. In doing so, they invoked their right to urban infrastructure. Drawing from literature on informal housing in the Global South, this paper argues that individual housing rights present a limited framework through which to understand homeless people’s right to the city, and that a truly radical right to the city should reflect the demand for sanitation infrastructure emerging from the streets.
A relatively new proposal to reduce homelessness in the United States involves extraordinarily small dwellings. While the “tiny house” movement is intuitively appealing and has found sporadic success, strict housing codes, building codes, and zoning laws often destroy the movement before it can get off the ground. One possibility for getting around these zoning and building code challenges, without drastic overhauls to health and safety codes, is to create a new state-level zoning classification of “transitional campgrounds.” A new zoning classification would alleviate the issue because campgrounds are consistently subject to less strict building codes, which could permit tiny houses as temporary living quarters. Creating “transitional campgrounds” gives discretion to local level policy makers, allowing for action that reflects the true needs of the local community. In some states, municipalities may be able to implement this proposed regulation directly. With appropriate legislative reform and community support, tiny house villages can be an affordable, alternative temporary housing accommodation option. Part I of this Note discusses the background of the tiny house movement, including an overview of the applicable zoning, building, and housing codes, along with various state laws. Part II explains the difficulties posed by the current regulatory scheme, and Part III proposes a statute designed to alleviate those challenges that could, ideally, be adopted at the state level.
Carceral geography has yet to define the ‘carceral’, with implications for both its own development, its potential synergies within and beyond geography, and effective critique of the carceral ‘turn’. A range of explicatory alternatives are open, including continued expansive engagement with the carceral, and attendance to compact and diffuse carceral models. We trace the origins of the term ‘carceral’, its expansive definition after Foucault, the apparent carceral/prison symbiosis, and the extant diversity of carceral geography. We advance for debate, as a step towards its critical appraisal, a series of ‘carceral conditions’ that bear on the nature and quality of carcerality.
Through this collection, we hope to engage in and inspire dialogue across people interested in imprisonment, institutionalization, and other sites of incarceration and segregation. Disability is of course a central component to our discussion as we consider how these sites uniquely and collectively shape the experiences of disabled people and how disability as a concept undergirds the development and workings of incarcerative systems. Because the work in this book crosses fields, examines multiple sites of incarceration, and attends to the interlocking of oppression, this chapter is designed to provide a broad historical and theoretical overview in order to showcase the intersections across sites and forms of inequality.
In the aftermath of September 11, donations to the poor and homeless have declined while ordinances against begging and sleeping in public have increased. The increased security of public spaces has been matched by a quest for increased security and surveillance of immigrants. In this groundbreaking study, Kathleen R. Arnold explores homelessness in terms of the globalization of the economy, national identity, and citizenship. She argues that domestic homelessness and conditions of statelessness, such as refugees, exiles, and poor immigrants, are defined and addressed in similar ways by the political sphere, in such a manner that each of these groups are subjected to policies that perpetuate their exclusion. Drawing on such authors as Freud, Marx, Foucault, Derrida, Lévinas, and Agamben, Arnold argues for a radical politics of homelessness based on extending hospitality and the toleration of difference.