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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2015 Abstracts

A Tale of Two Cities: Spatial Rhetorics, Homeless Exclusion and Salt Lake City’s Housing First Initiativ e

Duncan Stewart, University of Utah


Space is used as a rhetorical mechanism in Salt Lake City to separate the lives of the wealthy and the precarious bodies that are marginalized as hungry, unemployed, and homeless. This separation sustains a self-reproductive system of exclusion fueled by an unquenchable desire for profit and spatial separation. One way this separation is articulated is around the notion of “home,” insofar as the housed and the homeless represent this separation and are sustained by the political economy of the city. While the state efforts to address homelessness are valuable, the scope of the homeless problem requires that we critically reflect on how anti-homeless programs demand we conceptualize homelessness and the place of people experiencing homelessness in the space of the city. I will argue the space of the city is organized as a sorting mechanism that reinforces class and material divisions. Spatial separation becomes a regulatory operation where those who appear potentially able to participate in the economics of the cityscape are welcome and those who are not become legally excluded. One way this is accomplished is by enacting policies that promise to “solve” the problem of homelessness. Thus I will use Salt Lake City’s housing first initiative as lens to address the material consequences of such rhetorical force. Following this, I will highlight some of the major rhetorical themes that emerged in the analysis of discourses surrounding “Housing First.” Finally, I will consider how these insights help further an understanding of homelessness, expose how contemporary responses reify the marginalization of homeless populations from urban life, and point toward new ways of conceptualizing solutions to the “homeless problem.”