Memes & Homeless Encampments

Posted: February 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

The encampment for economic refugees that has been created under the JFX soon will be destroyed by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake not because of health, public safety or homeless concerns.  In a City camp83that was dealt a bad economic hand in the 1970s (like most in the North) and decided to play the Tourism card (using federal money deigned for neighborhood development), image and narrative are everything.  To Blake and other city leaders, Baltimore’s narrative is simple–“we lost jobs, but it’s our people, not business, who are now to blame.  Addicted to either substances or an underground economy or public handouts, they need to be replaced by others–tourists, empty-nesters, new urban pioneers, all who know what success requires and how to enjoy its rewards.”  innerharbor 

This story is assisted by visions of Baltimore like the Inner Harbor, an image that portrays order, prosperity, and hope–one created with  public subsidies and give aways that have robbed the City of the resources needed to aid the economic refugees under the JFX, in homeless shelters, and in Rent and Foreclosure courts of Baltimore.  

Strangely enough, the tent city is more offensive than a common Baltimore image that many of us see as prima facie evidence of the City’s failed public policies:  Vacant Housing.  Whether it’s 20,000 houses, as the City says, or 40,000 as most activists think, is of little consequence.  They exist, to us, as evidence of a failed private housing market and vacanthousingcity policies that do nothing but attempt to placate the profit-driven market.  But to the Mayor and others, the meme of vacant housing works in their favor.   It evokes ideas of failed responsibility, dysfunction, and class exodus.  It’s bothersome, in a sense, but vacants are just buildings, and ones that eventually will be torn down (if the City has their way and the money).  

But a tent city is different.  It’s too human.  The blankets, personal belongings, people–well it’s just too much of the wrong message.   For the City (and the housing market) to win the battle of the story, it needs to de-personalize and objectify economic refugees, not recognize their humanity.  This is why the tent city itself is important.  It shows what images of homeless shelters or rent court cannot–humans struggling to find respect and dignity in the worst of economic circumstances.  It shows us, in some respects, at our innovative and courageous best, with the few resources left to us.  With the City and the marketplace unwilling to respect, protect or fulfill our human right to housing , self-help will do–for now.   That’s a dangerous meme for the powers that be–but an important one for the powers to come.  

peter sabonis

  1. i thought this was done a year ago..

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