The way we construct public spaces often fulfills more than just any one utilitarian or aesthetic purpose. We also expect them to enforce normative values, like the right to not be bothered by folks we consider distasteful:
Orlando International Airport is a busy place this holiday week, not just with travelers, but also those who just want to come in from the cooler December nights to get some shut-eye.
Airport employees contacted News 13, saying members of Orlando’s homeless community have been using the airport’s first level to sleep and even bathe in the public bathrooms — and that’s upsetting travelers.
“It is an issue,” said Norma McCann who’s on vacation from West Virginia. “They’re going to starting picking up people’s things that walk away for a second. It’s just extra people being in a place they don’t belong.”
News 13 reached out to airport officials for a comment. They would not go on camera, but they did tell us that although people coming in and sleeping in the airport is not a growing problem, they did see an “increase in instances.”
The embedded ideology of space construction is right there in the middle: those who are homeless are “just extra people being in a place they don’t belong.” To wit, “I am ‘the public’ and ‘those people’ are not.”
So of course travelers, the legitimate ones, complain and airport officials send the illegitimate packing with a free bus ticket. Because we’re forever in the age of ‘what does the public think about issue X?’ it’s only natural to include a poll about that last part, aka, the important takeaway from this story:
Well at least we have some simmering embers warming the coals of our collective hearts. Perhaps it’s the same holiday glow that will let compel us to charitably give now in order to forget later. Or maybe similar to the lukewarm somber seriousness that compels the city of Orlando to spend three-quarters of a million dollars to outsource its homelessness problem to a private consulting firm, rather than pursue the whodathunkit success of just giving the homeless homes.
Of course do go ahead and read the end of that airport piece, where officials appeal to the morally unbounded authority of a private business operating a public space:
Airport officials did point out that even though the airport is open 24 hours a day and is a public building, it is still considered private property; therefore, trespassing citations can be written.
So don’t worry. We can just get rid of them.
What was that line that Six repeated in Battlestar Galactica? Oh yeah. “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.” We’ve got a long history of formulating the right to access and hold public space in such a way that it ends up defining who ‘the public’ is in the first place. Usually that has fallen along the typically do-not-cross-this-line of color and class. But for those homeless who make the trek to the airport in Orlando, which I can assure you is not an easy one, this is all a blip in our shared history: of us wanting to ignore them and they always being told to ‘move along, now, move along.’