Homelessness and the turbulent cycle of displacement

Authors: Jessie Speer*,
Topics: Urban Geography, United States, Cultural Geography
Keywords: homelessness, displacement, memoir, oral history, home, housing, domesticity, mobility
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Regency Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Based on close readings of memoirs and oral histories of homelessness from cities across the United States, this research calls attention to the turbulent geographies of cyclical displacement in contemporary US cities. While many have theorised homelessness as a static condition of living permanently outside, the genre of life narratives reveals that homelessness involves a constant struggle to find homelike spaces in the face of repeated and ongoing expulsion. In the US in particular, those who are displaced are forced to continually move between sites in order to evade arrest. As one memoirist writes, homelessness is a condition of “ongoing chaos” in which people are forced to be continually “in motion.” In addition to eviction and policing, homeless women and young people are often displaced by domestic violence and subjected to violence in the public sphere. Thus, many experience homelessness as a kind of constant escape, or as one narrator writes, “running away from running away.” Scholars have defined the home as the destination at the end of a journey and the resting point beforehand. Indeed, the American dream of homeownership is founded on this vision of fixity and stability. Yet those who experience the chaotic condition of departure with no return challenge this vision of geographic rootedness. In turn, many homeless life narrators describe their efforts to organise against eviction and domestic violence, and to build collective homes in parks and abandoned buildings. In this way, displacement itself inspires the search for alternative models of spatial belonging.

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