Complaint-Oriented “Services”: Shelters as Tools for Criminalizing Homelessness

This article argues that the expansion of shelter and welfare provisions for the homeless can lead to increased criminalization of homeless people in public spaces. First, I document how repression of people experiencing homelessness by the police in San Francisco neighborhoods increased immediately after the opening of new shelters. Second, I reveal how shelter beds are used as a privileged tool of the police to arrest, cite, and confiscate property of the unhoused, albeit in the guise of sanitary and public health initiatives. I conclude by considering how shelters increasingly function as complaint-oriented “services,” aimed at addressing the interests of residents, businesses, and politicians, rather than the needs of those unhoused.

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The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science