Supportive Housing and Surveillance

Boyd, Jade; Cunningham, David; Anderson, Solanna; Kerr, Thomas
The International journal on drug policy

Urban centres in the US, Britain and Canada have responded to identified visible ‘social problems’ such addiction, mental health and homelessness by providing some supportive housing for the urban poor and marginalized. While some critics have questioned what supportive housing specifically entails in terms of the built environment, what remains under explored, though a growing area of concern, is the relationship between surveillance and supportive housing for urban residents identified as having addiction and mental health problems — a gap addressed in this paper. Drawing upon qualitative ethnographic observational data we examine some of the measures of control and coercion that are encroaching into social housing primarily established for poor and marginalized people with addiction and mental health problems in the urban centre of Vancouver, Canada. We witnessed three modes of regulation and control, that vary widely, among the residencies observed: physical surveillance technologies; site-specific modes of coercion; police presence and staff surveillance, which all together impact the everyday lives of residents living in low-income and supportive housing. We argue that supportive housing has the potential to provide its intended commitment— safe and secure affordable housing. However, owing to an (over)emphasis on ‘security’, the supportive housing we observed were also sites of social control.