Beyond care and punishment. The compassionate invisibilization of homelessness

Authors: Antonin MARGIER*, UQAM
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: homelessness, Portland, public space, shelters, policing
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 13
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Perceived as a progressive city, Portland, Oregon (USA) is acclaimed for its livability and its sustainability model, Portland has become an inspiration for many policymakers. But as shown by Goodling et al. (2015), these policies produced spatial inequalities and contributed to Portland’s “uneven development. In 2019, more than 4,000 individuals were counted as homeless within Multnomah County, Oregon, including 2,000 who were sleeping on the streets each night.The visibility of encampments in public space has given rise to many concerns and complaints from residents. To address this issue, the previous mayor declared a State of Emergency on Housing and Homelessness and there has been a roll-out of care and supportive initiatives and the proclamation of a policy of compassionate management of homelessness by the city. To gain an understanding of how policies are implemented on the ground, I focus on the management of homeless encampments in public spaces. This paper is based on fieldwork conducted in Portland in 2019-2020 and outlines how the rise in homelessness outreach practices is closely related to encampment cleanups and the invisibilization of homeless people through “compassionate eviction” from public space. I argue that, despite the compassionate discourse which officially underlies the rise of supportive policies in the management of homelessness, outreach work is used in a way to invisibilize homeless people. In that sense, I interpret this rise of outreach work in the management of homelessness as an adjustment of policing to the compassionate turn more than an end to punitive practices.

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