The Criminalization of Homelessness: A Canadian Perspective.

In “Varieties of Punitiveness in Europe”, O’Sullivan sets out to review on-going debates on the use of criminal justice systems as a strategy to manage homelessness. That is, he explores the question of how do we understand exclusionary measures such as the enactment of laws targeting people who are homeless, as well as specific policing practices intended to restrict the use of public spaces, in terms of the neoliberal turn of the past quarter century. To this end, O’Sullivan challenges some of the assumptions of the neoliberal narrative, arguing that the evidence from various European countries is quite variable and the use of law enforcement as a response to homelessness must be contextualized in terms of local circumstances. O’Sullivan begins with a thoughtful review of the criminological literature that indicates that many nations in both Europe and North America have taken a ‘punitive turn’, as evidenced not only by higher rates of incarceration, but also by laws, legislation and practices that result in the use of law enforcement to ‘manage’ marginalized populations such as the homeless.

The point highlighted by O’Sullivan that context matters in making sense of this shift is important. O’Sullivan also correctly notes the necessity of accounting for the historical development of punitive vagrancy and anti-begging legislation, which extend back to the 19th century in many countries, and that the enhanced use of legal measures and law enforcement to deal with homelessness, cannot be understoodsimply in terms of contemporary ideological shifts.

Publication Date: 
Journal Name: 
European Journal of Homelessness
Toronto, ON, Canada