Rights Battles Emerge in Cities Where Homelessness Can Be a Crime

As winter bares down on some of the larger metropolitan areas, this article explores the morality of some of the laws that leave the homeless stranded in crippling temperatures. At the center of the debate is the law imposed by many cities banning “urban camping” and recent videos that have surfaced showing police issuing citations to residents of an encampment in Denver. This brings to light the “civic soul-searching” that cities must partake in as activists continue to push for the right to rest as a civil right for the homeless. Portland saw its progressive homeless law that allowed tent camping and sidewalk sleeping revoked this month after a sea of complaints flooded the mayor’s office. Though initially unsuccessful, Portland represents a progressive city attempting to address homelessness and its policies would surely be deemed more successful if there were designed spaces integrated into the landscape that could serve as a public space and a refuge for area homeless. If this were the case, would right to rest and urban camping be seamlessly and effectively added to the urban fabric.




Here, an east coast example of the housing first initiative is highlighted, the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence, which mirrors examples of buildings a part of the Skid Row Housing Trust, with its modern design and intentional focus on quality of housing. This landmark project for Washington D.C, focuses on addressing the local homeless veterans, providing 60 one room apartments for veterans and 64 more affordable and low-income housing units. Buildings like this one and many other housing first projects often do not incorporate a vision for the landscape, be that for budget reasons or lack of consideration but it is worth noting that community in these dwellings is important. Community is fostered through shared space and connection which builds trust and creates security. Many projects may lack space required for such amenities as large plazas but as seen in some of the thoughtful designs of Michael Maltzan in the Skid Row Housing Trust buildings, rooftop gardens give residents a natural place of repose and connection to place. Guidelines for such landscape considerations could be adopted for housing first projects if the significance of the landscape, be it large or small, was understood to be of importance. Regardless, this new project represents a hopeful trend on the other side of the country, rethinking the way homelessness is addressed.


“How Cities Got Serious About Homelessness in 2016” from VICE

Summary and Reflections:

It would seem there is no better time than now to acknowledge the important role that landscape plays in the lives of urban environments, especially in the lives of those without shelter. 2016, witnessed a profound step in public acceptance of the issue of homelessness and the unmistakable effect it is having on American cities. In November, voters in L.A., San Francisco, and Portland approved measures to raise millions of dollars for affordable and permanent housing (Swann, 2016) . This represents a radical change in the fight against homelessness, which for decades has been dealt with through shortsighted shelter and voucher programs that lead to a cycle of dependence and fail to address the fundamental issue of homelessness: shelter. In L.A., a 1.2 billion dollar bond, which takes a cut from property taxes, will construct 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing with supportive facilities over the next decade (Swann, 2016). L.A., recently was reported having the highest number of chronically homeless for the second year in a row. Seattle also experienced a rise in homelessness and has recently adopted a new plan to end homelessness called Pathways, which is rooted in housing first efforts. As the homeless epidemic becomes more unavoidable and the public begins to rally behind programs to alleviate the issue, it is worth contemplating the role that landscape will play in the reclamation and healing of the current and formerly homeless. If the housing first methodology is adopted in full force on the West Coast, how can the landscape serve to link these housing structures in such a way that encourages the formerly homeless into fulfilling lives. We know that homeless persons interact with the landscape in a profoundly more intimate way than most other people, because it is currently or has been their home for some period of time. An integral part of healing these lives will be in addressing the landscapes these people once occupied.

Drill down into the Tampa Ordinance noted and one sees it pertains to public parks, the literal grounds for change that landscape architecture has a responsibility to address. ASLA, professionals, and academics should all be pursuing creative approaches to policy, planning, and design that make public spaces more inclusive and empowering, while not degrading their existing users, identities, and roles. It is possible…

After arrests, ‘Tampa Food Not Bombs’ say it will continue to feed the homeless – without a permit – SaintPetersBlog