‘Somebody’s street’: Eviction of Homeless Encampments as a Reflection of Interlocking Colonial and Class Relations

Homelessness, as a construct, is premised on settler colonial technologies of land ownership and private property. Encampments, as one of the most visible forms of homelessness, compel us to confront how our socio-legal processes undermine human rights and perpetuate inequity and oppression. How municipalities engage in the legal governance of encampments, often through eviction, exclusion, and criminalization, is a result of interlocking colonial and classist political economies.

Borrowing from Collins’ “matrix of domination” and Smith’s “ruling relations”, this article examines the management and ultimate eviction of No Place Like Home, a tent encampment in a midsize city in Western Canada. Drawing on fifty-four interviews with people experiencing homelessness, law enforcement, and other community members, as well as legal documents that ultimately led to the eviction of the encampment, we unpack the political domination of encampments that legitimize and prioritize the desires and social position of the housed population over the human rights of encampment residents.

We argue that in their efforts to retain public property as an exclusive commodity for housed people, political actors used three tactics through which to justify the displacement of unhoused people and ultimately the denial of encampment residents as rights holders: 1) the invisibilization of Indigenous Peoples, and Indigenous women specifically, experiencing homelessness; 2) the construction of fire safety in the encampment as a public concern; and, 3) the prioritization of perceptions of safety among the general public to the detriment of the safety of encampment residents. Illuminating the intersection of colonial and classbased regimes embedded in the legal governance of encampments provides an avenue through which to advocate for the human rights of encampment residents. 

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Journal of Law & Social Policy