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.”