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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Homeless Negotiations of Public Space in Two California Cities

  • Author(s): Parker, Cory A.
  • et al.

People experiencing homelessness find movement in urban public space constrained. Scholars have attributed this lack of accessibility to the consequences of anti-homeless laws, social exclusions and economic factors. I draw from spatial and mobility theory to frame movement and transgression within the partitioned city. I accompanied homeless people on walking interviews to discuss their movements, transgressions, and public space they occupied. I also mapped people’s behavior in public space, comparing the movements of homeless people with the movements of people with homes. The results indicate homeless people negotiate urban space by walking, biking and riding the bus in a manner that maximizes their ability to manage relationships as they travel. Constraints in movement arise from the partitioning of the city, i.e. the division into public and private, making it difficult to both rest in public space and move in socially-acceptable manners. The findings suggest cities can improve homeless movement through setting limits on the automobile and removing limits (or partitions) on informal patterns of movement.

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