Kaid Benfield Archive


Tent cities proliferate as homeless population increases

Kaid Benfield

Posted October 21, 2008 at 1:56PM

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One generally thinks of "tent cities" as something that mainly occurs in third world countries where poverty is particularly high and/or refugees flee oppression.  But they are now becoming more common in the US, too, as foreclosures and other forces increase the homeless population.

Martha Stepanek writes on All Things Reconsidered, the JustMeans blog where I also occasionally post:

"In America, tent cities now perch on the edges of Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Nashville, among other cities. And their presence is expanding as the nation's  economic crisis continues.

"For a while last year, a MySpace page, now obsolete, offered St. Petersburg, Fla., tent city residents a list on which to post their needs, such as water, toilet paper, and portable showers. One resident, a 32-year-old woman named Tina May, used a $30 disposable plastic videocamera to document a mid-morning police raid meant to break up the camp. May's video of the raid-which showed police officers using box cutters to slash the tops off the tents-was posted on YouTube and got more than 13,000 hits over the span of three days . . ."

a tent city in Olympia, WA (by: televiseus, creative commons license)

An AP story on the MSNBC site also discusses the situation:

"From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.

"Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they've experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group says the problem has worsened since the report's release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening . . .

"'What you're seeing is encampments that I haven't seen since the 80s,' said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella group for homeless advocacy organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore. and Seattle.

"The relatively tony city of Santa Barbara has given over a parking lot to people who sleep in cars and vans.

"The city of Fresno, Calif., is trying to manage several proliferating tent cities, including an encampment where people have made shelters out of scrap wood.

"In Portland, Ore., and Seattle, homeless advocacy groups have paired with nonprofits or faith-based groups to manage tent cities as outdoor shelters.

"Other cities where tent cities have either appeared or expanded include Chattanooga, Tenn., San Diego, and Columbus, Ohio . . ."