It 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.