Environment and Planning E: Nature & Space
Authored by #UnequalCities Network member Erin Goodling
Abstract: Lacking access to stable shelter, infrastructure, and services, houseless people are exposed to a range of environmental hazards. Yet, environmental justice (EJ) scholars have only begun to consider how EJ issues impact unsheltered people. In dialogue with Critical EJ Studies and geographies of homelessness research, and drawing on seven years of participant observation and a national phone survey of forty-seven houseless community representatives, this paper begins to chart a baseline Critical EJ analysis of homelessness. I argue that understanding the EJ experiences of houseless people requires attention not only to direct exposure to hazards, but also to criminalization. Police sweeps in downtown and residential areas push people into toxic spaces; when houseless communities express concerns, they risk further eviction. In this way, cities overwhelmingly respond to hazard exposure with displacement, creating a cycle of criminalization, dangerous living conditions, and serial forced removals. Moreover, examining such intersecting hazards and their impacts through a Black feminist lens of intersectionality reveals how systemic violence vis-à-vis environmental hazards is multiplied and magnified for houseless people along lines of race, gender, age, disability status, and so on. By bringing Critical EJ and geographies of homelessness into conversation, with particular attention to intersectional impacts, scholars and organizers can better attend to the complex suite of issues that differentially shape the lives of houseless people and inspire resistance.