Posts Tagged ‘tent cities’

Did you know that 44% of the homeless in America are living without shelter?

As discussed in my last post, tent cities have historically been one way people seek shelter, primarily because there is a dearth of affordable housing.  Many of them start as disorganized gatherings of squatters with no place else to go due to shelter overcrowding or housing ineligibility.

Over time though, non-profits have begun to help arrange more organized tent cities. This usually involves taking an existing tent city and helping them restructure in a way that meets city or local guidelines and benefits the residents of the encampment.

Dignity Village

These organized tent cities are thought of by their supporters as waiting rooms until transitional or permanent housing becomes available.  The National Coalition for the Homeless put out a report on tent cities on the pacific coast, and it outlines the structure of several successful tent cities. Cities like Seattle, Portland, and Fresno (among others) have serious shelter overcrowding problems, and tent cities have formed as a way to handle the surplus.

Camp Quixote

The vast majority of the tent cities discussed in the report are dry encampments with strict rules about drug use and violence.  They have councils, meetings, security shifts, and they are self governed.  These miniature communities are models of what our larger communities should look like.  Some of them grow their own food, assist each other in job searches, have community service hours, and advocacy campaigns.

Village of Hope, Fresno, CA

The members of the tent cities discussed in this report defy all stereotypes of homeless people.  They are responsible, clean and sober, and motivated.  The non-profits that partner with them are assisting in funding and act as service providers, but they do not run the tent cities or tell them what to do.  These men and women have achieved a level of sufficiency at which they can run their own villages.

Dignity Village Garden

This is not to say that these people should stay in tent cities forever, or even that tent cities are the best solution to homelessness.  These are just a few of the positives to be considered when looking at tent cities in America  and how they function to service the greater good.  In my next post, I will discuss the downside to tent cities.


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Many of us have heard about tent cities thanks to the Occupy movement.  Groups of protesters set up encampments in cities across the country. As a result, legislation was passed forcing them out of the parks and off of public lands.  These anti-camping laws did more than eliminate the Occupy encampments, though. The lesser-publicized homeless tent cities were also affected.

Berkley Occupy Camp

These Occupiers, who protest the distribution of wealth in America, did not set out to harm the homeless.  In fact, many of them have been sharing their camps with the homeless.  But with these new laws in place the homeless are being pushed out of parks and public places.  Especially in larger cities, where shelter overcrowding is a major concern, there are few other options for the homeless.  These anti-camping laws have basically outlawed homeless, which raises the question: Where are they supposed to go?

Thankfully, Occupiers have realized their hand in the matter and are now arranging protests of these new laws.  These “Rallies for the Right to Exist” are the first step in drawing attention to a very important issue.  In San Francisco the Occupiers have even taken over a vacant building and are insisting it be used for the homeless. One of the leaders of the movement pointed out that no building should stand empty when there are people without shelter.

Sacramento Tent City…slightly different than the occupy encampment, no?

I find it interesting that we have heard so much about tent cities in the media as a result of occupy, when in reality tent cities have been around for a long time.  The homeless encampments are growing in size as a result of the economic downturn, but still they receive little media attention. For many Americans these tent cities are out of sight, and therefore, out of mind.  Due to negative generalizations of the homeless population, even many who know about these shanty towns are not accepting or supporting.  Surprisingly though, the communities that have actually encountered them are largely supportive.

I will discuss more about why, how, and where tent cities form in my next post.

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