Homeless Shelters and the Blues

Authors: Christian Siener*, CUNY Graduate Center
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: Political geography, urban geography, homeless shelters
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Proteus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the emergence of New York City’s homeless shelter system in the mid-1980s through the music of rap group Boogie Down Productions. I posit their music as an example of Clyde Woods’ blues epistemologies to highlight varying forms of resistance and solidarity within shelters. Having met in a makeshift shelter housed in an armory, BDP’s history brings everyday experiences of shelter into relief as an already-present and widespread repudiation of policy, including the criminalization of homelessness and the hierarchical organization of relationships within shelters. Through this lens I describe shifts in political consciousness that accompanied changing material, ideological, and geographical conditions within the local state as it attempted to manage an expansive regional surplus population. Combining an analysis of their music, administrative records of shelter expansion, and interviews, I show homeless shelters to be a part of the carceral state and a “catch all” solution to homelessness in the rollout of neoliberal New York.

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