The ‘biopolitics’ of housing first: governing chronic homelessness in Canada

The ‘biopolitics’ of housing first: governing chronic homelessness in Canada

Since the mid 2000s, Housing First has become a prevalent public response to homelessness in North American cities and is now gaining increasing attention internationally (notably Western Europe and Australia). Often described as a ‘radical paradigm shift’ inspired by a ‘harm reduction’ philosophy, Housing First is a policy program that aims to tackle ‘chronic homelessness’ by allowing long term emergency shelter users to access independent housing without requiring compliance to treatment (i.e., remain sober or maintain treatment for mental or physical health issues) (Tsemberis 2010). Based on a field study conducted by direct observation of Housing First outreach workers in two Canadian cities (Ottawa and Gatineau) and drawing from Foucault’s theoretical perspective on biopolitics, this presentation will discuss how Housing First a) reveals a neoliberal art of governing homelessness informed, at a macro- level, by the impact of the aging baby boomer population on health and social services, and b) reinforces, at a micro-level, intersectional inequalities within the homeless population.

About the presenter:

Dahlia Namian holds a PhD in Sociology from Montreal and is currently an associate professor at University of Ottawa (School of Social Work) in Canada. Her areas of research include: urban homelessness; biopower and technologies of the self in relation to social work and welfare services; sociology of mental health and emotions. She is currently conducting a critical ethnography study of the Housing First and homelessness policy in Canada and acts as co-director (with Dr Nicolas Moreau) of the Social Sciences of Health Interventions Research Group at University of Ottawa. At ANU, she will be working with Dr. Baptiste Brossard on a research project on behavioral addictions, which recently received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Date & time

Mon 15 Oct 2018, 11am–12pm


Larry Saha Room, Hayon Allen Building, ANU


Dahlia Namian


Tim Graham


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