How Liberal Legal Strategies for Securing Homeless Rights Might Reterritorialize as Anti-Capitalist Critique and Praxis

Authors: Luke Leavitt*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Legal Geography, Urban Geography, Human Rights
Keywords: Homelessness, Rights, Legal Geographies, Social Movements
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Madison B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper follows evolving legal strategies for securing the rights of homeless individuals who live in Denver’s dwindling public places, in order to ask how struggles over liberal property rights might reterritorialize as struggles over the production of urban commons. The paper focuses on a class action lawsuit filed against the city for unconstitutionally seizing homeless peoples’ property and denying homeless individuals due process. Initiated by Denver Homeless Out Loud, a local homeless-led advocacy group, the lawsuit contests the use of police force to confiscate and destroy homeless peoples’ belongings during prevalent “sweeps” of homeless encampments. By launching a lawsuit based on fourth and fourteenth amendment challenges, DHOL reinforces a rights based framework premised on personal property ownership, which at first glance reproduces normative Western notions of propertied citizenship. Notably, however, this iteration of property rights is not “landed,” but rather congeals in personal belongings. How might this moment of legal and spatial contestation suggest a finer grained analysis of propertied citizenship and its deviations by parsing out the differences between landed and not landed private property? Second, the lawsuit coheres the homeless as a “class” recognized by the law. That is, the law recognizes the rights of those deprived of housing by a capitalist housing market. How does granting the homeless class status critique a capitalist housing market, and can this critique be operationalized or extended through further praxis? This paper poses these speculative questions as the lawsuit itself continues to develop.

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