Real Cities in Uneasy Truce With Tent Cities

As the economy limps along, with jobs still falling (despite keen efforts to call a turn, and with the figures a bit more dodgy if you look under the hood), more and more overindebted and underemployed citizens are out on the street.

Reports of tent encampments or parking lots with cars that serve as shelter have been an occasional and sad sighting for more than a year. What is new is that some cities, with their shelters at their limits, have decided it is better to provide limited services to these colonies than try to send the occupants away.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Last summer, police responding to complaints about campfires under a highway overpass found dozens of homeless people living on public land along the Cumberland River.

Eviction notices went up — and then were suspended by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, who said housing for the homeless should be found first.

A year later, little has been found — and Nashville, with help from local nonprofits, is now servicing a tent city, arranging for portable toilets, trash pickup, a mobile medical van and visits from social workers. Volunteers bring in firewood for the camp’s 60 or so dwellers.

Nashville is one of several U.S. cities that these days are accommodating the homeless and their encampments, instead of dispersing them…

In Florida, Hillsborough County plans to consider a proposal Tuesday by Catholic Charities to run an emergency tent city in Tampa for more than 200 people. Dave Rogoff, the county health and services director, said he preferred to see a “hard roof over people’s heads.” But that takes real money, he said: “We’re trying to cut $110 million out of next year’s budget.”

Ontario, a city of 175,000 residents about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, provides guards and basic city services for a tent city on public land.

A church in Lacey, Wash., near the state capital of Olympia, recently started a homeless camp in its parking lot after the city changed local ordinances to permit it. The City Council in Ventura, Calif., last month revised its laws to permit sleeping in cars overnight in some areas. City Manager Rick Cole said most of the car campers are temporarily unemployed, “and in this economy, temporary can go on a long time.”…

Municipal leniency isn’t universal. New York City officials last month shut down a tent city on a vacant lot in East Harlem….

Some homeless are battling mental illness or addictions, or both. Municipal officials in the U.S. acknowledge the tent cities can breed crime and unsanitary conditions, but with public shelter scarce, they say they have to weigh whether to spend police time to break up encampments that are likely to resurface elsewhere.

Pastors in Champaign, Ill., last week asked the City Council to allow people to live in organized tent communities of as many as 50 people. Legalizing the camps is more compassionate and cost-effective than forcing “poor people who are camping because they have a lack of better choices to constantly have to fear being rousted and cited by police,” says Joan Burke, advocacy director for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, a homeless-assistance agency.

In Nashville, Mr. Harris, director of the city’s homeless commission, said tent cities have existed for years, but he has seen the numbers surge. He now knows of 30 encampments. While some people are chronically homeless, he said, foreclosures have forced others into the streets, as has Tennessee’s 10.8% unemployment rate, the highest in 25 years…

The city and local nonprofits have found permanent housing for about 25 people from the tent city.

Many haven’t been so lucky. David Olson, 47 years old, said last week he and his wife wound up under the Nashville overpass after he lost a job making cement pipes in Iowa four months ago. The couple came to Nashville for a remodeling job that turned out to be a scam. “I’ve got five years’ experience in carpentry and 10 years’ roofing and I can’t find a job,” he said.

Mr. Olson, his arms and shirt caked with dirt, said life is hard in the swampy woods. The couple woke up to mud after a night of rain. His wife said she is frightened by the dogs that roam around the encampment.

As mosquitoes buzzed, they tried to set up camp on higher ground. They struggled to secure a tarpaulin over their tent to keep out the rain. Mr. Olson’s wife, holding onto a pole to prop up the tarp, cried. “I’m not used to living like this.”

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  1. Aki_Izayoi

    Add that category, "Banana Republic" to this. Also, East Germany doesn't have homeless people and it is socialist.

  2. Anonymous

    We can no more as America confront the issues surrounding the behavior of the oligarchy controlling us than we can the reasons for the increased homelessness. The oligarchy has brainwashed the ignorant into believing lies and social constructs that are against the masses best interests.

  3. Peripheral Visionary

    One important point to remember is that the homeless population is in many ways a function of the level of services provided by the city. Large homeless populations are more indicative of generous local services than of local economic problems.

    One other point is that the increased number of citizens falling on hard times will substantially shift the debate on immigration reform. It will become increasingly difficult to make the argument that the U.S. should (in effect) take care of citizens from other countries when it is currently unable to take care of its own citizens. Questions will start to be asked on why we are providing housing for immigrants, both legal and illegal, when native-born citizens are on the street.

    (@Aki_Izayoi: Europe has lower rates of homeless people primarily because they have much greater power to involuntarily commit the mentally ill. Given that the homeless have mostly been the mentally ill, that is a substantial factor, although that is changing as more typical citizens are finding themselves homeless.)

  4. K Ackermann

    @Peripheral Visionary – You buy into it all wholesale. Hey, if Rush said, it must be right, correct?

    Let me ask you something: what do you think has cost the taxpayer more: immigrants since this country was founded, or the bailouts from just last year?

    Rush has you barking down a gopher hole because he wants you bent over for something else.

  5. Peripheral Visionary

    @K Ackermann, it's simply not a coincidence that countries with socialized medicine have tight immigration. I wasn't born yesterday, and I know perfectly well what European policies toward immigration are; immigrants already within their countries receive generous benefits, but they have no interest in receiving any further influxes.

    Generous benefits and open immigration are an either/or prospect; take your pick. The problem is that too many people think we can have it both ways.

    With regard to the cost, the simple fact is that we can't afford either to take care of more immigrants or to bail out the financial industry. We are the most indebted nation in the world, it is time to wake up to that fact and start living like the debtors that we are.

  6. Anonymous

    I would have thought housing would be the last thing that would be in short supply. Foreclosed condos, apartment complexes, hotels, motels not to mention a mutlitude of single family repos. Oh, and don't forget all those clunkers we really wouldn't have to destroy.

  7. Sara

    What are all these benefits we're providing immigrants? Undocumented immigrants can't get welfare, food stamps, or Social Security, and their access to Medicaid is limited to coverage for emergencies only. Documented immigrants are eligible for some benefits, but to a lesser degree than citizens if they have not been here for at least five years. U.S.-born children of immigrants (also known as "citizens") are eligible for a full range of benefits that their parents are not.

  8. Anonymous

    @Aki_Izayoi: East Germany had no
    homeless cos employment was compulsory and the govt. stole most
    housing (nationalised it);

    Europe (Western) now has low homeless
    cos the govt. will pick up the tab for your housing if your income drops
    below a certain level. Eg if you own
    property you rent out and live in a
    rented flat yourself and your income
    drops a lot you can still get rent
    support + dont have to sell assets
    first. Wouldn't help you with food
    but shelter is covered.

  9. Anonymous

    hey … i am confused.. isn't their massive oversupply of residential property in the developed world at present time

    how about we just give the empty lots to the homeless?

    problem solved

  10. Argel

    I had a woman at a gas station hit me up for cash last night. She said they were trying to make it up to family in Idaho. It's sad to see this and it's sad that the MSM is for the most part overlooking issues like these.

  11. Anonymous

    "I've got five years' experience in carpentry and 10 years' roofing and I can't find a job," he said.
    Somebody tell this guy to build his own house. Because God knows we got too many as it is. So what, will he go thru life unemployed til the next housing bubble, 20 years from now?

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