[Hpn] TENTS RISE TO HOUSE THE HOMELESS; CITIES QUESTION HOW TO RESPOND
William C. Tinker
Fri, 15 Feb 2008 16:46:46 -0500
JOSH: THAT GUY BY THE GARBAGE CAN
TENTS RISE TO HOUSE THE HOMELESS; CITIES QUESTION HOW TO RESPOND
Tent cities don't exactly provide a real roof over your head, but they are
desirable alternatives for people who are accustomed to sleeping under
bridges and in doorways. But aside from those without a home, canvas
communities draw young teens that desire to escape unhealthy and oftentimes
abusive home environments.
Bethany, 16, embraced "tentopia," a tent community in New Hampshire started
by three male twenty-somethings.
"They were homeless, had just been kicked out of their apartment..Someone,
while they were drunk, came up with the idea of tentopia," Bethany said.
Tentopia lasted for a while, until the cops busted it.
"They ripped everything down-said we couldn't put up tents on public
property," Bethany said.
The nature of tent cities is flexible. A police bust is not usually the end
of a tent community, but rather impetus for its relocation. After the
incident at tentopia, for example, the founders of the community just moved
further back into the woods.
What's surprising in the case of collectives like tentopia is that many of
its residents are not unemployed. Many of them work, but do not earn enough
to pay rent. Bethany worked at Wendy's thirteen hours a week, making $6.50
an hour. Others worked as movers and as fast food workers at Taco Bell and
For Bethany, the eclectic mix of residents made tentopia a great place.
"It was my sanctuary-being able to sit there and talk and unwind and not
having responsibilities or being trapped in school or having to do
anything," she said.
Tent cities have sprung up around the country for a number of reasons, but
the principal reason is that many homeless people have nowhere else to go.
Shelters have extensive waitlists, affordable housing is scarce, and safety
on the streets is questionable.
Cities across this nation are struggling with how best to handle tent
communities. Sacramento issued letters to vacate to a tent community earlier
this week. Los Angeles currently has a moratorium on issuing citations for
illegal camping. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that issuing
such citations constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" given the limited
alternatives to homeless citizens in the area.
Seattle has a more established tent program, which is sponsored by an
organization called SHARE/WHEEL and is one of the few programs largely
accepted by city government. However, the program did undergo scrutiny and
was shutdown in 2002 until concessions where made mandating that SHARE
operate only with permission on private property and establish a number of
Tent City 4 (TC4) operates outside Seattle in King County, Washington, but
is supported by SHARE. Unlike the Seattle program, TC4 has clashed with
community residents who claim that the 100 person camp unfavorably affects
area safety. Whether crime actually rises is a matter of continued debate.
It's no surprise that many of the people living in tent cities are employed,
yet without any other place to go.
Even the cheapest housing in major cities has become out of reach. According
to The State of the Nation's Housing 2006, the stock of affordable housing
(units available at $400 or less) declined by 1.2 million units from 1993 to
The outlook is even worse. 12% of the existing 5.4 available units reported
negative operating income. The dramatic rise in home values over the past
decade has made home ownership an even more impossible alternative to
According to an October 31 New York Times article, "while there are 17,000
shelter beds in Los Angeles County, most of them within the city, there are
some 74,000 homeless across the county's 4,060 square miles." Measures to
disband tent communities in the downtown Skid Row area have not accomplished
much more than dispersing the thousands of homeless throughout other parts
of the city.
Tent cities are a sign of the times. Cities must focus less on disbanding
current operations, and more on providing viable alternatives. Until then,
places like tentopia will continue to form, disband, and relocate. An
increasing number of Americans simply has nowhere else to go.
Find out more about what Tent City Seattle:
Learn about the legal implications of tent cities in Washington:
Watch an animated map of the homeless population in L.A.
New Hampshire Homeless
25 Granite Street
Northfield,N.H. 03276-1640 USA
Advocates,activists for disabled,displaced human rights.