Homelessness, Disability, and Oppression

In: The Ethics of Homelessness: Philosophical Perspectives
Author: Julie E. Maybee

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Abstract

The concept of “homelessness” can play a helpful role in conceptualizing the oppression of disabled people in our society. Drawing on the work of African American scholars, I argue that one way in which disabled people are oppressed is by being shuttled into and/or maintained in a state of homelessness. For some disabled people—particularly some people who experience mental distress—this oppression can take the form of “homelessness” in the more typical sense of lacking a fixed place of residence. However, I argue, disabled people have also been pushed into other forms of homelessness, including institutionalization in mental hospitals, nursing homes, and “schools” for intellectually or developmentally disabled people. These forms of homelessness undercut people’s material and ontological security. Our society is designed to make non-disabled people, for instance, feel at home. At the same time, the counter-argument reminds us that some versions of homelessness have had positive implications, that opening up our society’s “home” will require changing that home—so that people who were made to feel at “home” before will have to become more “homeless”—and that we must be open to the possibility that some people may choose to be “homeless” in some meaningful senses.

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