Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Article Summary: Homelessness at the Cathedral

 The following is a summary of Marc L. Roark's upcoming article in the Missouri Law Review, entitled Homelessness at the Cathedral. This article discusses the implications of legal restraints pertaining to the use of both public and private property and how our social norms contribute to those legal restraints.  The article argues that these legal restraints are based on both property-based legalities mixed with different communities social-identity information.  Different communities tend to accept different social norms and identities for what is an acceptable use of property and what are acceptable uses of property rights.  This article discusses how the acceptable uses of property within a community based on the norms effect both social order and the broadly conceived notions of liberty: constitutional rights or due process rights.  

            As outlined by the article, creating collective norms serves mainly three functions.  First, in society the norm represents sectional interests as universal interests.  Second, creating these norms transmute contradictions.  And thirdly, the creation of property norms naturalizes existing social structures.  This article examines how these three functions are the reoccurring themes in homelessness cases when dealing with the control of space.     
            The first section of this article discusses how a norms within these communities can create a collective identity.  That norm can then define what power and entitlement are and also in some instances how property ownership can be interpreted synonymously with moral superiority.  The article argues that the collective identity within a community effects how those individuals react to legal actions.  More specifically, this article details how the adoption of subjective understandings of identity tends to exclude the underrepresented communities’ expectation of identity.  The first section illustrates how homeless persons are often these underrepresented communities and are victim of the dominant collective identity.
            The second section of this article examines different approaches courts take to cases of homeless persons in relation to physical space.  The article inspects three main types of homeless person cases.  One type of case is homelessness in relation to public space, concerning issues such as sleeping in public areas and leaving personal goods within this public space. Another type of case scrutinized is that relating to homeless person activities such as public drunkenness or panhandling.  Lastly this section reviews cases dealing with how property that attracts homeless persons effects surrounding property. 
            Finally, this article illuminates how property norms and the identity of a community emerge from the decisions of the homelessness cases.  It shows how property interests and emerging norms can support specific rules even if those rules are property specific and against individual human interest.  Unsurprisingly, the homeless community is rarely considered in legal decisions relating to property.  While the homeless community lacks a source of legal relief, property owners can assert their expectations for the entire collective identity and control space.
            Overall, the article does a fine job of addressing the homeless community and how they are often underrepresented in property related legal proceedings.  Instead of seeking to resolve the social problems that lead to homelessness the legal identities leave the homeless misunderstood and mistreated.  In order for there to be a solution to homelessness, there must be a consideration of individual’s personal identity outside of a collective norm in the city decisions and court discussions.   In order for this to happen it would be beneficial to require states to be cognizant of the impact of different projects, regulations, and rulings on the homeless.  The government must be reminded somehow of the humanity that is lost within the property rights decisions and find a way to bring human toll back into the balance.  
- Kristen Wagner