American Journal of Community Psychology

, Volume 56, Issue 3–4, pp 368–382 | Cite as

“This is My Community”: Reproducing and Resisting Boundaries of Exclusion in Contested Public Spaces

  • Erin E. ToolisEmail author
  • Phillip L. Hammack
Original Article


The way that public space is structured has significant implications for identity, social interaction, and participation in society. For those experiencing homelessness, with no or limited private space, survival hinges on the accessibility and livability of public space. However, the increasing privatization of public space in the United States has contributed to the implementation of anti-homeless ordinances in cities, restricting sitting, standing, panhandling, and sleeping in public. This study analyzes data from interviews with housed and unhoused community members, text from a local policy document, and ethnographic observations to explore how boundaries between “insiders” and “outsiders” are drawn in public space and mediated through individual discourse. Our findings suggest that boundaries of exclusion are constructed through dominant narratives that portray the unhoused as a threat to safety and economic vitality, thus justifying the need for regulation and punishment through the criminalization of homelessness. Yet, informants also demonstrate resistance to this narrative by discussing how criminalization of homelessness perpetuates dehumanization, violence, and economic inequality. Policy implications for the regulation of public space are discussed.


Homelessness Public space Narrative Policy Discourse Moral exclusion 



The work presented here was supported by funding from the Psychology Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. We wish to acknowledge the community members who graciously shared their time and stories with us and the field sites that supported our work. We thank Heather Bullock, Mary Beth Pudup, Miriam Greenberg, Andrew Pilecki, Anjali Dutt, Brandon Balzer-Carr, Harmony Reppond, Leifa Mayers, Robyn Goldberg, Christine Brown, Rachel Beyer, Tajalei Willard, and Tamar Bezjian for their suggestions and contributions to this project. We also thank Jacob Tebes and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on earlier versions of this article.


  1. Ammann, J. J. (2000). Addressing quality of life crimes in our cities: Criminalization, community courts and community compassion. St. Louis University Law Journal, 44(3), 811–820.Google Scholar
  2. Amster, R. (2003). Patterns of exclusion: Sanitizing space, criminalizing homelessness. Social Justice, 30(1), 195–221.Google Scholar
  3. Applied Survey Research. (2013). 2013 Santa Cruz County homeless point-in-time census & survey: Comprehensive report. Retrieved from
  4. Autor, D. (2011). The polarization of job opportunities in the U.S. labor market: Implications for employment and earnings. Community Investments, 23(2), 11–41.Google Scholar
  5. Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  6. Banerjee, T. (2001). The future of public space: Beyond invented streets and reinvented places. Journal of the American Planning Association, 67(1), 9–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barnes, R. K. (2000). Losing ground: Locational formulations in argumentation over new travellers. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Plymouth University; Plymouth, UK.Google Scholar
  8. Barnes, R., Auburn, T., & Lea, S. (2004). Citizenship in practice. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43(2), 187–206.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bruner, J. S. (1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bullock, H. E. (2008). Justifying inequality: A social psychological analysis of beliefs about poverty and the poor. In A. C. Lin & D. R. Harris (Eds.), The colors of poverty: Why racial and ethnic disparities persist (pp. 52–76). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  12. Bullock, H. E. (2014). Social barriers to poverty reduction. In United Nations Development Programme, Barriers to and opportunities for poverty reduction: Prospects for private sector-led interventions (pp. 135–160). Retrieved from
  13. Bullock, H. E., & Reppond, H. A. (in press). Of “takers” and “makers:” A social psychological analysis of class and classism. In P.L. Hammack (Ed.), Oxford handbook of social psychology and social justice. New York: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  14. Case, A. D., & Hunter, C. D. (2014). Counterspaces and the narrative identity work of offender-labeled African American youth. Journal of Community Psychology, 42(8), 907–923.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Case, A. D., Todd, N. R., & Kral, M. J. (2014). Ethnography in community psychology: Promises and tensions. American Journal of Community Psychology, 54(1–2), 60–71.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. City of Santa Cruz. (2013, December 3). City Council agenda: Study session. Retrieved from
  17. Code Publishing Company. (2014). Santa Cruz Municipal Code. Retrieved from
  18. Denzin, N. (1978). The research act: A theoretical introduction to sociological methods. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  19. Di Masso, A. (2012). Grounding citizenship: Toward a political psychology of public space. Political Psychology, 33(1), 123–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dixon, J., & Durrheim, K. (2000). Displacing place-identity: A discursive approach to locating self and other. British Journal of Social Psychology, 39(1), 27–44.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Dixon, J., & Durrheim, K. (2004). Dislocating identity: Desegregation and the transformation of place. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(4), 455–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dixon, J., Levine, M., & McAuley, R. (2006). Locating impropriety: Street drinking, moral order, and the ideological dilemma of public space. Political Psychology, 27(2), 187–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ferrell, J. (1997). Youth, crime, and cultural space. Social Justice, 24(4), 21–38.Google Scholar
  24. Gaetz, S. (2004). Safe streets for whom? Homeless youth, social exclusion, and criminal victimization. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 46(4), 423–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gendron, R., & Domhoff, G. W. (2009). The leftmost city: Power and progressive politics in Santa Cruz. Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  26. Gergen, K. J. (1985). The social constructionist movement in modern psychology. American Psychologist, 40(3), 266–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hammack, P. L. (2006). Identity, conflict, and coexistence: Life stories of Israeli and Palestinian adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 21(4), 323–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hammack, P. L. (2008). Narrative and the cultural psychology of identity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12(3), 222–247.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Hammack, P. L. (2010). The cultural psychology of Palestinian youth: A narrative approach. Culture & Psychology, 16(4), 507–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hammack, P. L. (2011). Narrative and the politics of meaning. Narrative Inquiry, 21(2), 311–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hammack, P. L. (2014). Mind, story, society: The political psychology of narrative. In M. Hanne, W. Crano, & J. S. Mio (Eds.), Warring with words: Narrative and metaphor in politics (pp. 51–77). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  32. Hammack, P. L., & Cohler, B. J. (2009). Narrative engagement and sexual identity: An interdisciplinary approach to the study of sexual lives. In P. L. Hammack & B. J. Cohler (Eds.), The story of sexual identity: Narrative perspectives on the gay and lesbian life course (pp. 3–22). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hammack, P. L., & Cohler, B. J. (2011). Narrative, identity, and the politics of exclusion: Social change and the gay and lesbian life course. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 8, 162–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hammack, P. L., & Pilecki, A. (2012). Narrative as a root metaphor for political psychology. Political Psychology, 33(1), 75–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hammack, P. L., & Toolis, E. (2014). Narrative and the social construction of adulthood. New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development, 145, 43–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Harvey, D. (2008). The right to the city. New Left Review, 53, 23–40.Google Scholar
  37. Hochschild, J. L. (1995). Facing up to the American dream: Race, class and the soul of the nation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Hodgetts, D., Stolte, O., Chamberlain, K., Radley, A., Nikora, L., Nabalarua, E., & Groot, S. (2008). A trip to the library: Homelessness and social inclusion. Social and Cultural Geography, 9(8), 933–953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Josselson, R. (2004). The hermeneutics of faith and the hermeneutics of suspicion. Narrative Inquiry, 14, 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Jost, J., & Hunyady, O. (2003). The psychology of system justification and the palliative function of ideology. European Review of Social Psychology, 13(1), 111–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Krueger, A. (2012, January 12). The rise and consequence of inequality in the United States. Speech transcript retrieved from
  42. Laurenson, P., & Collins, D. (2006). Towards inclusion: Local government, public space and homelessness in New Zealand. New Zealand Geographer, 62(3), 185–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space (Vol. 30). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  44. Lieblich, A., Tuval-Mashiach, R., & Zilber, T. (1998). Narrative research: Reading, analysis, and interpretation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  45. Limbert, W. M., & Bullock, H. E. (2009). Framing US redistributive policies: Tough love for poor women and tax cuts for seniors. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 9(1), 57–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lott, B. (2002). Cognitive and behavioral distancing from the poor. American Psychologist, 57(2), 100–110.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Lott, B., & Bullock, H. E. (2007). Psychology and economic injustice: Personal, professional, and political intersections. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mathison, S. (1988). Why triangulate? Educational Researcher, 17(2), 13–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mitchell, D. (1995). The end of public space? People’s Park, definitions of the public, and democracy. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 85(1), 108–133.Google Scholar
  50. Mitchell, D. (1997). The annihilation of space by law: The roots and implications of anti-homeless laws in the United States. Antipode, 29(3), 303–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. National Coalition for the Homeless (NHC). (2014, June). Vulnerable to hate: A survey of hate crimes & violence committed against the homeless in 2013. Retrieved from
  52. National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). (2014). No safe place: The criminalization of homelessness in U.S. cities. Retrieved from
  53. National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). (2014). Out of reach 2014: Twenty-five years later, the affordable housing crisis continues (pp. 1–241). Retrieved from
  54. Onishi, N. (2013, March 24). Violence brings an identity crisis in a free-spirited California beach town. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  55. Opotow, S. (1990). Moral exclusion and injustice: An introduction. Journal of Social Issues, 46(1), 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Opotow, S. (2006). Seeking inclusion and pluralism: Two exploratory studies. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 12(4), 349–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Opsal, T. D. (2011). Women disrupting a marginalized identity: Subverting the parolee identity through narrative. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 40(2), 135–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pascale, C. M., & West, C. (1997). Social illusions: Responses to homelessness in Santa Cruz, California, 1989–1994. Perspectives on Social Problems, 9, 3–29.Google Scholar
  59. Public Safety Citizen Task Force. (2013, December). Research, findings and recommendations: Santa Cruz City Public Safety Citizen Task Force (pp. 1–47). Retrieved from
  60. Ramirez, L. C., & Hammack, P. L. (2014). Surviving colonization and the quest for healing: Narrative and resilience among California Indian tribal leaders. Transcultural Psychiatry, 51(1), 112–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rappaport, J. (2000). Community narratives: Tales of terror and joy. American Journal of Community Psychology, 28(1), 1–24.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Reich, R. B. (2010). Aftershock: The next economy and America’s future. New York: Knopf Doubleday.Google Scholar
  63. Runyan, W. M. (1980). The Life Satisfaction Chart: Perceptions of the course of subjective experience. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 11(1), 45–64.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Shinn, M., Baumohl, J., & Hopper, K. (2001). The prevention of homelessness revisited. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 1(1), 95–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sleeper, A. (2014, January 14). Out in the cold. Good times. Retrieved from
  66. Snow, D. A., Baker, S. G., & Anderson, L. (1989). Criminality and homeless men: An empirical assessment. Social Problems, 36(5), 532–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Snow, D. A., & Mulcahy, M. (2001). Space, politics, and the survival strategies of the homeless. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(1), 149–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sonn, C. C., & Fisher, A. T. (1998). Sense of community: Community resilient responses to oppression and change. Journal of Community Psychology, 26(5), 457–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stiglitz, J. E. (2012). The price of inequality: How today’s divided society endangers our future. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  70. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2011, July). Current statistics on the prevalence and characteristics of people experiencing homelessness in the United States. Retrieved from
  71. Susser, I. (1996). The construction of poverty and homelessness in US cities. Annual Review of Anthropology, 25, 411–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Tappan, M. B. (1997). Interpretive psychology: Stories, circles, and understanding lived experience. Journal of Social Issues, 53(4), 645–656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tileagă, C. (2006). Representing the “other”: A discursive analysis of prejudice and moral exclusion in talk about Romanies. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 16(1), 19–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Tileagă, C. (2007). Ideologies of moral exclusion: A critical discursive reframing of depersonalization, delegitimization and dehumanization. British Journal of Social Psychology, 46(4), 717–737.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Toolis, E. E., & Hammack, P. L. (2015). The lived experience of homeless youth: A narrative approach. Qualitative Psychology, 2(1), 50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. United Nations Human Rights Committee. (2014, April 23). International covenant on civil and political rights: Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of the United States of America (p. 8). Retrieved from
  77. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). (2013). The 2013 annual homeless assessment report (AHAR) to Congress: Point-in-time estimates of homelessness (pp. 1–58). Retrieved from
  78. U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2013). Opening doors: Chronic homelessness. Retrieved from
  79. Western Regional Advocacy Project. (2014, September 8). National civil rights outreach fact sheet. Retrieved from
  80. White, R. (1993). Youth and the conflict over urban space. Children’s Environments, 10(1), 85–93.Google Scholar
  81. Wright, T. (1997). Out of place: Homeless mobilizations, subcities, and contested landscapes. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  82. Wright, T. (2000). Resisting homelessness: Global, national, and local solutions. Contemporary Sociology, 29(1), 27–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Community Research and Action 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Psychology Faculty ServicesUniversity of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz)Santa CruzUSA

Personalised recommendations