Homelessness Across the Urban-Wildland Interface

By Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

There are myriad ways that natural spaces are used. Some of us run or bike, walk our dogs, read books, have picnics or camp in these spaces. Many of us try to care for these spaces, to be stewards of the land. But what about those of us with no homes, who pitch tents in parks and natural spaces for shelter? Are those of us without homes considered sustainable practitioners of land stewardship?  Professor Jeff Rose’s research explores the sustainability impacts of homeless populations living in natural spaces (spaces where we don’t build), and the environmental justice issues affecting these populations. “When we talk about sustainability,” he says, “sometimes we have to ask what is being sustained and who are we sustaining it for?”

Dr. Rose, an assistant professor in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism in the College of Health at the University of Utah will present his lecture, “Homelessness, political ecology, and critical sustainability,” on Tuesday, November 5th, from 4 – 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline Skaggs Biology Building.  Rose will explore issues of homelessness and sustainability in his lecture, as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s (GCSC) Seminar Series.

Professor Rose earned his Ph.D at the University of Utah, an M.A. in Geography from San Diego State University, and his B.S. in Mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He says he initially entered into research on homelessness through ethnographic field methods, living with a homeless community in park spaces that edge the urban center of Salt Lake City.  This close, intimate, shared experience infuses meaning into the data of his research.  

Many people experiencing unsheltered homelessness live in natural spaces.  For some, this would be narrowly defined as public parks, foothills, or riparian corridors, but Dr. Rose invites us to broaden the ways we think about nature. “When we step outside of private spaces, shared public space is what becomes nature,” he says. This extends the definition of nature to include an alleyway or side street in a city, for instance. If you’ve ever looked around for nesting birds in the city, this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch of the imagination. Nature can include a lot of spaces, and those who find themselves without permanent places to reside are often caught up in a conundrum of where they can be without their presence being deemed at best a nuisance, or at worst, criminal. 

Looking at homelessness as an environmental relationship is particularly meaningful here in Salt Lake City where we have a plethora of natural recreation spaces and a growing homeless population.  Are those of us who live camped on the land not all intimately connected to the environment? What does justice look like if a person has no place to exist other than the public sphere? What does it mean to live sustainably?

To explore these questions and others surrounding homelessness and the environment come by ASB 210 on Tuesday, November 5 for Dr. Jeff Rose’s lecture, “Homelessness, Political Ecology, and Critical Sustainability” as part of the GCSC seminar series.  As always, there will be coffee and treats so bring your mug and enjoy!


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