Scott Sady/AP
Mack Martinez smokes in front of his
tent at the tent city that sprung up
next to the homeless shelter in
downtown Reno, Nev.

Tent Cities on Rise as Employment Rate Sinks

September 22, 2008 06:53 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
In cities all over the country, people hit hard by the poor economy are forced to find shelter in makeshift encampments.

Unemployed and Homeless Pitching Tents

Homeless coalitions all over the country have been caught off guard by the rapidly increasing number of tent cities popping up to accommodate those disenfranchised by the economic downturn. Michael Stoops, acting director for the National Coalition for the Homeless told the Associated Press that “The economy is in chaos, we're in an unofficial recession and Americans are worried, from the homeless to the middle class, about their future.” He predicts that as things get worse, the number of homeless residents will increase.

In Reno, Nevada, 150 people now live in a parking lot near the railroad tracks. The area is scheduled to become an official shelter, but for now, people are allowed to pitch tents and become temporary residents. Reno is particularly hard hit because people have traveled there to find work at the casinos and been met with the same low employment rates that exist elsewhere. But other cities, such as Santa Barbara, Seattle, and Athens, Ga., are also hosting their own tent cities.

Tent City in Ontario, California

In December 2007, 20 residents of Ontario, Calif., hit hard by financial struggles made a camp near the railroad tracks of their hometown. The number of “Tent City” residents quickly grew to 200, including families with children. While not many of Tent City’s residents had actually lost their homes, some people who lived in the city explained that they simply couldn’t afford to pay skyrocketing rental prices, Reuters reported. Others had simply fallen on hard times in the flagging economy. At the time, experts predicted that as more foreclosures occurred, the population of the encampment would grow.

The BBC noted that while Tent City was ostensibly a safe space for homeless people, it certainly was a sparse environment, lacking electricity, a place to prepare food, running water or any kind of plumbing. Residents represented all races, and included veterans, addicts, former convicts, people unable to pay rent and the rare victim of foreclosure.

By March 2008, the number of people had increased to 400 and Ontario police and officials intervened to evict any squatter who could not prove that they had been a resident of Ontario prior to settling in Tent City. The Los Angeles Times reported that although the city had officially designated the area as a place where the homeless could live unharmed, health and safety concerns necessitated that population be reduced.

France24 produced a video chronicling life in Tent City. The station notes that all residents “tell the same story. The story of their downfall.” But there is also a sense of community and storytelling, and a mutual effort to keep hope alive in a dismal environment.

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