restricted access 3. Not Allowed: Legal Exclusion, Human Rights, and Global Capital
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3 Not Allowed Legal Exclusion, Human Rights, and Global Capital P erhaps the most pressing need a homeless person has is to generate income to ensure his or her basic survival. Income, however derived, is an important component of stabilizing homeless people’s lives en route to, ideally, overcoming homelessness. In this chapter, I demonstrate how in Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, in Berlin, insufficient public cash assistance forces many, if not most, homeless people to resort to informal material survival strategies. Such strategies are frequently met with deliberate spatial exclusion by public and/or private security through legal means in the form of displacement, deportation , and prosecution of fare dodging. To support this argument, I first provide a brief discussion of U.S. research to set the stage for a more in-depth investigation of homeless people’s material survival strategies in Berlin and how these strategies, along with homeless people’s mere existence, are met with punitive responses, effectively limiting their use of urban space. In differentiating experiences by life course, I shed light on the consequences of punitive policy and subsequently synthesize the results by introducing a model of “legal exclusion” that demonstrates how public policy aggravates homeless people’s personal circumstances and complicates their attempts to overcome homelessness. Material Survival and Its Criminalization: Evidence from Los Angeles Homeless people need income to procure food and clothing and often pay shelter fees. Given that few homeless people in Los Angeles, or in other U.S. cities for that matter, receive public-income assistance, they inevitably must rely on other material survival strategies to make ends meet. American homeless people employ an often astonishing extent of such strategies, which, using David Snow and Leon Anderson’s (1993) typology, involve wage labor, institutional assistance, social networks, and shadow work, the last encompassing a variety of informal Not Allowed 47 and often sanctioned survival methods commonly associated with homelessness (e.g., panhandling, scavenging, recycling, donating blood plasma, etc.). Yet shadow work and, perhaps more generally, homeless people’s mere existence have been met with punitive policies across the United States. Since the early 1980s, antihomeless ordinances have mushroomed in cities across the country, outlawing virtually every aspect of homeless people’s lives and activities, including panhandling, scavenging, loitering, camping, sleeping, sitting, or violating public dress or behavioral codes.1 The fact that even mobile feeding programs , which use vans to provide free meals to homeless people living on the street, have been outlawed has been discussed by Don Mitchell and Nik Heynen (2009). In many ways, the criminalization of homeless people is perhaps the most extensively studied geographic aspect of contemporary homelessness in U.S. cities and, more recently, in Europe (for overviews, see Amster 2008; BuschGeertsema 2008; Mitchell 2003; Doherty et al. 2008; Toro et al. 2007; von Mahs 2011a). Borrowing insights from a variety of academic disciplines, these studies provide a persuasive basis for understanding the rationale behind punitive policy and serve to unmask those responsible.2 The academic interest in homeless exclusion is unsurprising, as there is hardly a more blatant example of injustice across urban space than the deliberate spatial exclusion of people for the purpose of benefiting capitalist interests (Mitchell 1997, 2003; Mitchell and Heynen 2009; Amster 2008). The tenor of virtually all these critical studies is that cities, increasingly governed by public-private ventures, are reimagined as places of consumption in which homeless people, as potentially dangerous nonconsumers, have no place. Homeless people are deliberately portrayed as threatening and culpable deterrents to consumer activities who consequently must be removed, signaling Neil Smith’s (1996) “revanchism.”3 Compelling evidence suggests that virtually every U.S. city has been enforcing specific “antihomeless” ordinances to facilitate homeless removal from prime urban spaces (Vitale 2010; Foscarinis 1996; NLCHP 2011). Los Angeles has long been in the forefront of finding expedient ways to rid commercially important areas of homeless people, as aptly described in Mike Davis’s seminal City of Quartz (1990). The city, its police, and local businesses resort to exclusionary measures that encompass myriad legal and architectural means, including the much-cited convex and divided “bum-proof benches,” automatic sprinkler systems to wash people and cardboard homes away, and barbed-wire trash containers designed to dissuade scavengers. To facilitate actual displacement, police rely on a broad range of existing public order and safety laws (e.g., against public urination or public alcohol consumption) and, over time and with increasing intensity, local ordinances explicitly directed against...