Philosopher To Discuss Homelessness, Town and Gown Divide at UO

Chad Kautzer
Chad Kautzer

Everybody sleeps. But for people who are unhoused, sleeping can be controversial and even illegal, due to city ordinances that ban lying down, sleeping or camping.

Those ordinances might be based on bad philosophy, according to Chad Kautzer, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, who argues that such ordinances outlaw activities that are fundamental to survival.

Kautzer is giving a talk Thursday, Nov. 6, entitled “Homelessness, Security and the Politics of Dys-Appearance,” and will attempt to start some new discussions about homelessness.

Kautzer says university folks tend to talk about issues “without getting involved with people,” so he says he hopes his talk will help bridge the divide between campus and the rest of Eugene. “It’s important for people on campus to go out to the community to learn from the community,” he says.

Kautzer calls rules like Eugene’s ban on urban camping “the criminalization of homelessness” and says other solutions are needed. A Homeless Bill of Rights, which has become law in several states, including Rhode Island and Connecticut, would be a step in the right direction.

Eric de Buhr, executive director of Community Supported Shelters, calls the event “a good first step” but says he remains skeptical about the university’s efforts. “You can’t learn sitting in a classroom about a true, real phenomenon that’s out in the world,” de Buhr says.

De Buhr is among those invited to a roundtable with Kautzer on Friday. The group will also include Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy and Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg. UO philosophy professor Naomi Zack says the roundtable is by invitation only in order to keep the group small so they can “try to come up with things the UO could actually implement.”

The talk is sponsored by the UO Community Philosophy Institute. Zack, who is the chair of the institute, says she hopes that philosophy can offer insight into the complex problem of homelessness. “We’re going into winter, and a number of people are going to suffer in ways that are unimaginable to us who have ordinary lives,” Zack says. “Maybe we can spark practical solutions.”

Kautzer’s talk is 4 pm Thursday, Nov. 6, at the Knight Library Browsing Room, UO campus. The talk is free and open to the public.