Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tent Cities

During tough economic times it is hard to be properly discerning about the stories connected to homelessness and the need for tent cities, as it may well be that many of the homeless are so as a result of the tough times.

We have several posts on this, here, here, and here.

However, during the very beginning of the national conflagration about tent cities that began in Sacramento after Oprah’s show, a local homelessness professional estimated that less than ten per cent of the homeless were connected to the economy and the rest were the chronic homeless we have been dealing with for years.

One of our members says that the situation in the Parkway is “all bad, back to the old days” which is the status of large and virtually unregulated camp sites in the North Sacramento area of the Parkway, adding to the crime in adjoining neighborhoods, and continuing the inability of the surrounding community to enter their area of the Parkway safely.

This article in the Wall Street Journal takes a look at tent cities, and Sacramento gets some prominence.

An excerpt.

“Nashville is one of several U.S. cities that these days are accommodating the homeless and their encampments, instead of dispersing them. With local shelters at capacity, "there is no place to put them," said Clifton Harris, director of Nashville's Metropolitan Homeless Commission, says of tent-city dwellers.

"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."…

“After years of enforcing a tough anticamping law to break up homeless clusters, Sacramento recently formed a task force to look into designating homeless tracts because shelters are overflowing. One refuge in the California capital, St. John's Shelter for Women and Children, is turning away about 350 people a night, compared with 25 two years ago, said executive director Michele Steeb….

“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.”