Where do you go if you’re one of the almost 10 million U.S. citizens who are unemployed? One solution may be a homeless encampment or “tent city,” which CNN reports are now popping up across the country.
Tent cities are generally makeshift communities which offer an alternative to city sponsored shelters. The cities are located in various areas, including under highways or bridges and in the woods. Tent cities may be organized or disorganized overflowing with waste, food, trash and drugs.
Tent cities are on the rise
Although the government likes to tout America’s rise and climb out of the great recession, the number of tent cities is said to be on the rise. In fact, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the number of homeless is rising, and the number of encampments are also rising. The center estimates there are now at least 100 such encampments throughout the United States.
Tent cities are also not consolidated in just one part of the country. Tent cities have been documented in several states including Hawaii, Alaska, California, and Connecticut.
One question plaguing many cities is why people would choose to live in a tent city when there are other available options. Although tent cities are most common where housing prices are high, some tent dwellers choose the tent city because they enjoy the freedom.
In fact, one tent dweller likened the requirements at some shelters to the restraints someone might have in jail. For instance, shelters often require residents to check in and out at certain times, avoid drugs and alcohol and have a clean record. Others claim their work schedules, such as working the night shift, eliminated the option of living in a shelter because they could not arrive at the shelter prior to curfew.
Tent cities offer a sense of community
Tent city residents also like tent cities because they claim some of them offer them a sense of community not found in a shelter, where resident frequently come and go. Some tent cities are also loosely organized, allowing for one person to be selected as a leader. Members of the group may also vote on general rules of living within the community.
How is the city responding to tent cities?
Most cities are discouraging the practice and have taken steps to eliminate and shut them down when they are located. Of the 100 tent cities, only eight were found to be legal. But when cities decide to shut the tent cities down the bigger question is what to do with those residents who are displaced. This week in New Jersey one tent city was closed, but the city acknowledged all the shelters were full and everyone from the tent city was simply left to wander the streets.
What do we do about tent cities?
The goal for cities is to try to understand why tent cities exist. Is it because housing in certain areas of the country is unaffordable? Is it because our economic recovery has failed to create the types of jobs needed to help people move out of poverty? Do some people simply refuse to work? Cities need to find a way to help the homeless survive and find shelter.
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