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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cruel Streets: Criminalizing Homelessness in San Francisco

  • Author(s): Herring, Christopher
  • Advisor(s): Wacquant, Loic
  • et al.

Over the past thirty years, cities across the US have adopted variants of “quality-of- life” policing. Central to these efforts have been local ordinances aimed at curbing visible poverty, suppressing “anti-social behavior,” and removing the homeless from public space. My dissertation examines the causes, practices, and consequences of criminalizing homelessness in the contemporary metropolis. By relating ethnographic observations in the political and bureaucratic fields with those between interactions of state officials and homeless individuals, the dissertation reveals novel forms of the criminalization of poverty, tracing how homelessness is turned into a criminal activity by state classifications, institutional transformations, and populist politicization thanks to, rather than in-spite of, provisions of welfare and rhetoric of assistance. It also uncovers novel forms of the penalization of poverty, disclosing how policing can be directed by urban change, economic organizations, community groups, and agencies of poverty governance tangential to the criminal justice system. Expanding the conception of the criminalization of poverty, which is often centered on incarceration or arrest, the study reveals previously unforeseen consequences of move- along orders, citations, and threats that dispossess the poor of property, create barriers to services and jobs, and increase vulnerability to violence and crime.

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