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Tents and other structures are seen in an aerial view at a homeless encampment at Strathcona Park in April, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Public libraries and faith-based organizations join forces to address homelessness

Post-doctoral fellow, Kaitlin Wynia Baluk, was featured in the Conversation.

Oct 20, 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated homelessness. Throughout the pandemic, shelters reduced capacity to comply with public health protocols, people lost jobs and affordable housing remained elusive.

With a rise in tent cities and makeshift accommodations, homelessness has gained visibility.

Local municipal authorities across Canada have worked to enforce bylaws. Many have dismantled encampments to the dismay of activists and homeless people.

These events, media coverage, ensuing protests and policy discussions raise important questions about public space: How should it be used? Who is the public? And the question I am concerned with here, what are the implications of pushing people who are homeless out of these “inclusive spaces”?

Homelessness stigma in public spaces

Public spaces, such as parks and sidewalks, are typically thought to belong to everyone. However, many scholars have emphasized that there are rules and unsaid expectations that include and exclude.

Very few spaces exist where people who are homeless can feel like they belong.

Bylaws that criminalize behaviours associated with homelessness — like panhandling — and hostile architecture — like a street bench with a central armrest that prevents people from lying down — are ways of pushing people out of a particular space.

Excluding homeless people from public spaces can perpetuate stigmas. These social stigmas typically take the form of labelling, stereotyping, a separation of “us and them” and a loss of social status. Sociologist Ervin Goffman famously described stigma as “a spoiled identity” based on stereotypes rather than inherent qualities.

Homelessness stigmas discredit individuals from participating in social life and limit access to social resources. These stigmas work against efforts to address homelessness because they can lead people to avoid essential services.

Read the full article here