Homeless Campgrounds: Once Open, They’re Hard to Close

By | Nov 25, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is so difficult to clear out a homeless campground. There may be piles of trash and bad smells but, for the people living in these secluded enclaves away from the judging public, these campgrounds are home. The other people living in the tents are considered family. They protect each other and provide social interaction.

These are not just campgrounds. They are communities.

But one homeless community outside of a town in Northern California has been accused of being a magnet for homeless people who want to live there.

The housed people in town were afraid that these un-housed people coming from other parts of the state would endanger their own ideal community. They believed drug dealers, sexual predators, and beggars would engulf their neighborhoods. They viewed these people experiencing homelessness as the Grinch terrorizing their perfect Whoville.

Clearing the homeless encampment seemed to be the answer, but such an effort is difficult. Do we send in the Sheriff to hunt down homeless people with outstanding warrants? Dispatch Public Works to clean up the junk with face masks and gloves? Amongst the rubble are often pictures of people’s family members and homeless children’s stuffed animals. Remnants of home in an outdoor tent city.

And then where do these people go? Back to over-stuffed shelters? Or do they return to the streets? It is so hard to tear down someone’s home, even if it is “just” a tent.

But, the truth is, a tent is not a home. At least, it shouldn’t be.

A homeless encampment reminds me of a refugee camp in a war-torn country on the other side of world. All of these people fled from violence and fear, whether because of the crossfire of war or the insecurity of life on the streets. In a refugee camp, everything is temporary: the shelter, the food, and the situation.

Like a temporary shelter in a refugee camp, a temporary tent is not a permanent home.

Then why do we allow such encampments to exist? Is it because allowing tent cities on the outskirts of town is an easy out? What city or county has the money, or the political will, to build enough permanent supportive housing for every person experiencing homelessness in their jurisdiction? It is so much easier to find an empty lot or piece of land, and let people squat.

Are there too many people living in vehicles in your neighborhood? Set aside a parking lot for them. Too many tents propped up along the busy boulevard? Find a piece of land and let them set up a tent city. It doesn’t cost much, and it doesn’t take much effort.

But these are still not permanent homes.

Some people say that we should allow our un-housed neighbors to set up tent cities and govern themselves. But a KOA campground filled with homeless refugees, with their own “city” council members, is not the same as a town filled with homes and elected officials.

A better solution to tent cities would be to buy a town, and let people who are homeless create their own community there. I can just see the white picket fences and manicured lawns. And perhaps a social service office and employment center down the street to help the town’s new residents when they needed it.

That’s what I call a real home. Perhaps along with building permanent supportive housing, we should also create permanent supportive towns?

Then, we would no longer have to clear out tent cities.

One Comment

  1. Posted Jan 13, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    That's a wonderful thought, Joel. Some people are not suited to survive in the rat-race of the mainstream and bureaucracy. While millions of acres of land in this country are owned by various branches of government, the signs still read, "No Trespassing!" Even if land grants were made available to the homeless populations, they have no skills to survive so far from the soup kitchens (and thrill-seeking contrabands which seem to ease the suffering of despair, at least for a moment). –I am referring to those who tend to resist homeless services here.

    So many long-time street-people have developed core beliefs that prevent them from the hope of ever finding happiness and comfort, community and acceptance. Everyone is capable of these, regardless of current circumstances, but belief is reality according to the theory of relativity. The documentary, LA Lost Angels, made it clear that a large number of chronically homeless people suffer from various mental disorders, PTSD, or brain damage.

    Many studies show that people who have suffered continued discrimination and community rejection develop other illnesses and self-destructive behaviors; they come to believe that they are unacceptable and unwanted. This could be a common thread to addressing chronic homelessness.

    I strongly believe that no matter what a person's age is, or how much they have suffered at the hand of other, or what they have done to harm others in the past, everyone is capable of learning. Core beliefs can be changed. When a person feels that he/she has value to offer the world, is accepted in a community of like-minded people as who they really are, that he/she can learn to love and respect life.