Tuesday, August 11, 2009
There's an intriguing story in today's Wall Street Journal about the sharp increase in tent cities around the country, David Widmer of Nashville, shown below at his make-shift riverside campsite, one of the many homeless featured in the accompanying slide show.
It sounds like it's a mixed bag across the country with many local governments lending a huge amount of aid to this growing population and, in some other areas, vocal protests by homeowners limiting their efforts.
One this is sure, without the enormous financial aid currently being provided by the federal government via extended unemployment benefits, food stamps, and other programs, the situation would be much, much worse.
Last summer, police responding to complaints about campfires under a highway overpass found dozens of homeless people living on public land along the Cumberland River.That's our old home town in Southern California (Ventura) where a bridge overpass and (mostly) dry riverbed attracted a large population of homeless that would occasionally trek over to the Food 4 Less to redeem their trove of recyclable cans and bottles.
Eviction notices went up -- and then were suspended by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, who said housing for the homeless should be found first.
A year later, little has been found -- and Nashville, with help from local nonprofits, is now servicing a tent city, arranging for portable toilets, trash pickup, a mobile medical van and visits from social workers. Volunteers bring in firewood for the camp's 60 or so dwellers.
Jack Adkins sat in what he calls his "office" at his home in Tent City in Nashville.
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."
In northern California it seems as though the situation is no better than when we lived in that part of the state, some 350 people per night being turned away from the St. John's Shelter for Women and Children in Sacramento, according to this report.