Finding Shelter in Denver: Multiple Regimes of Spatial Order and Multiple Coping Strategies

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Stephen KOESTER , Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, CO
Sig LANGEGGER , Akita International University, Akita-city, Japan
From a homeless person's perspective, the neoliberal city seems like a virtual minimum-security prison.  In order to work, eat and rest, they must negotiate multiple and layered ordinances regulating their activity and movement.  For the homeless, simply occupying public space is already problematic.  Certain municipalities allow begging, others do not.  Scrapping metal often violates land use codes.  In seeking services, the homeless must conform to the requirements of state and charitable service providers.  Obviously, neoliberal spatial control of homelessness does not germinate from a single control center.  Peck (2010) argues that the mongrel phenomenon of the neoliberal state is relationally constituted.  His notion aligns with Staeheli and Mitchel (2008) claim that public space regulation does not emanate from a single ideological or practical nexus, but comprises many separate interpenetrating property regimes

In attempting to understand how homeless individuals negotiate a growing phalanx of codes and ordinances variously intended to move them toward service providers and into shelters we utilized ethnographic methods.  Talking to homeless injection drug users in Denver, CO, a city wherein sleeping with any protection against the elements in public has recently been outlawed, we found that shelters, due to mandated durations of stay and strictly enforced conditions of confinement were often considered undesirable places to be.  Understanding this, it is unsurprising that homeless people resist this degree of control by continuing to seek alternative and often illegal places for shelter and attending to personal hygiene.  Other findings prove both ironic and tragic.  We learned that as part of an overall strategy for negotiating Denver’s regimes of spatial confinement often leads to increased drug use.  A heavy nod numbs heroin users from the cold and rain.  And methamphetamine addicts frequently increase dosages and usage in order to avoid the need for sleep altogether.