Criminalized for their very existence: The Spatial Politics of Homelessness

Jared Edgar McKnight, MLA+U '21

 
  • SP.21
  • Level: graduate
  • Discipline: Landscape Architecture
 

The largest congregate setting of LA County’s 66,000+ unhoused individuals resides in the streets of Skid Row, and for as long as it takes to deliver a housing solution, our unhoused communities will continue to suffer at the hands of our codified systems of regulations, like the LA Municipal Code, that restrict and criminalize their abilities to even exist in 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 LGBTQ and unhoused means to be DOUBLY discriminated against. LGBTQ individuals (and the 40% of unhoused youths who identify as LGBTQ) 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 to survive. This work seeks to spatialize the LA Municipal Code, to help the unhoused LEGIBLY understand how they can LEGALLY exist in public space, and to identify opportunities that challenge these structures that isolate, exclude and target the vulnerabilities of a community without other options. A design that serves as a survival guide for the unhoused to more safely negotiate civic spaces as inclusive environments. To be unhoused is not to be sedentary in a tent, it is to be in a constant state of motion, and emotion, Skid Row should accommodate that, and allow unhoused individuals to stake a more dignified claim in a landscape that so strictly governs their ability to even exist.