Homeless in Tent City, USA

by KATHY SANBORN

Homeless encampments around the country are mushrooming, much to the embarrassment of government officials, may of whom prefer to hear no evil, see no evil. In Fresno, California, a shantytown called “New Jack City” is host to newly poor, unemployed electricians and truck drivers, who share space with drug addicts and the mentally ill who have been homeless for years.

And, thanks to Oprah, Sacramento is famous for its homeless tent city, featuring several hundred people residing in pitched tents bordering the American River. With refuse strewn everywhere, and no potable water or bathroom facilities, this celebrated shantytown is clearly a sanitation risk.

Almost as soon as the media ran with the story, plans were made to shut down the Sacramento tent city in the foreseeable future. City officials will relocate the homeless to other, presumably more sanitary, areas (e.g., at the site of the state fairgrounds, Cal Expo). According to the Sacramento Bee, “homeless campers” will be ousted in about four weeks, as the private property will be fenced off to ban the tent city population.

California’s capital is not the only city to be brought to its knees by photos of disheveled citizens with nebulous futures. Reports of burgeoning tent cities in Nevada, Tennessee, and Washington State (just to name a few) have kept local governments hopping to fix the trouble before the media spotlight targets their own cities.

Spotlight on Shantytown in Sacramento

Initial reports of huge numbers of people living in the tent city in Sacramento probably were inflated, we know now. Estimates of 1200 tent dwellers were simply exaggerated by overzealous or slapdash journalists. Incorrect numbers aside, the problem remains: the new poor and the chronically homeless live side by side, with nothing but a cloth roof over their heads.

I spoke with Sister Libby, executive director of the now-infamous Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento, which provides charitable assistance to the hungry and homeless.

Sister Libby said, “We have over two to three hundred folks here in the Sacramento tent city. At its height, about 2-3 new faces a day were showing up. Of the tent city population, 80-85% have been homeless for over a year. Only about 10-15% are the “new poor” – those with a recent job loss or home foreclosure.

We have seen a lot of new faces – mostly women with children – coming in to find shelter.

Last year, according to Sacramento government statistics, the countywide homeless total was around 1200 people. It’s probably more like 1400 now.

Since they have decided to close the tent city in Sacramento and provide 150 extra shelter beds in other locations for these folks, I worry about the people who are mentally ill or have drug and alcohol issues – which comprise about 50% of the tent city residents. They aren’t shelter-ready. What is the government going to do with them?”
Mayor Kevin Johnson said the city’s shelter demand has increased “four-fold.” The executive director of St. John’s Shelter in Sacramento said they turn away 230 women and children each day, as opposed to the twenty turned away daily in 2007. These numbers indicate a dramatic explosion of growth in the homeless population, but many are hesitant to attribute this sudden rise in homelessness to the current economic downturn.

Modern Hoovervilles Abound

City officials in Fresno report three major homeless encampments adjacent to the downtown area, and smaller sites near the highways. All told, Fresno’s homeless population is about two thousand people, living in shantytowns with grim names such as Taco Flats or the aforementioned New Jack City. Drugs, violence, and prostitution are common in the Fresno tent cities, as people react to the stress of living outdoors with no services – and no money.

Individuals in Seattle, Washington who have lost their jobs and homes reside in tents in the back of a church parking lot, derogatorily called Nickelsville. Named for Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, whom residents say doesn’t much care about their plight, the Nickelsville shantytown is home to about one hundred campers a day.

Nashville, Tennessee has its own problems with tent cities. According to NewsChannel5.com, Nashville has one large tent city south of the downtown area, with at least thirty additional homeless camps scattered throughout the region. There is a concern about this “huge surge in the number of encampments,” and the issue has reached “urgent” proportions. Attributing the rise in homelessness to the faltering economy that brings with it increased foreclosures and job layoffs, city officials are seeking answers – and fast – to their local homeless crisis.

In Reno, Nevada, officials closed a tent city in 2008 that housed about 160 residents. Now, the sidewalks of Reno serve as beds to some sixty homeless people with nowhere else to go. There are homeless camps on Record Street, and local merchants believe their business is down because of the sea of homeless vagabonds invading store sidewalks and blocking customer access to shops.

Reno officials are attempting to prevent another tent city from emerging in the summer of 2009, but with less revenue available for alternative housing, this remains to be seen.

What can we conclude from the rapid increase in homelessness across the nation? The facts are clear: there are more people, especially women and children, who are out on the streets, without a dime. At least 10-15% of homeless individuals are the “new poor,” or those who have recently lost their jobs and homes. We can be certain that if the economy doesn’t improve soon, there will be more of the new poor pitching their tents in shantytowns across America – maybe in your neighborhood.

KATHY SANBORN is an author, journalist, and recording artist with a new CD, Peaceful Sounds, now a top seller on CDBaby. Listen to clips of her songs, including “Forever War,” and buy the album now at http://cdbaby.com/cd/kathysanborn.

KATHY SANBORN is an author, journalist, and recording artist with a new CD, Peaceful Sounds, now a top seller on CDBaby. Listen to clips of her songs, including “Forever War,” and buy the album now at http://cdbaby.com/cd/kathysanborn.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman