Criminalized for their very existence: The Spatial Politics of Homelessness

By Jared Edgar McKnight, MLA+U '21

The largest congregate setting of LA County’s 66,000+ unhoused individuals resides in the streets of Skid Row, an ‘unofficial containment zone’ for homelessness. While the cure for homelessness is housing, the staggering costs and bureaucratic hurdles to achieve this solution are likely decades away. For as long as this takes, unhoused communities will continue to suffer at the hands of our codified systems of regulations, like the LA Municipal Code (LAMC), that restrict their abilities to exist in public space. Enduring discrimination for their very existence, unhoused individuals must navigate the LAPD’s yearly 14,000+ misdemeanor arrests attributed to ‘quality of life’ violations that prohibit sitting, lying, or sleeping on sidewalks (LAMC§41.18), but to identify as LGBTQIA+ and unhoused means to be doubly discriminated against. LGBTQIA+ individuals (and the 40% of unhoused youths who identify as LGBTQIA+) are further oppressed by hate crimes, threats of physical violence, and tensions that encourage many to conceal their own identities in order to access resources, and survive. As a transitional strategy to a future housing solution, this project seeks to spatialize the LAMC through micro-interventions that serve as a survival guide for the unhoused to more safely negotiate our civic spaces, and stake a more dignified claim in a landscape that so strictly governs their ability to even exist.