THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
The Economy is Doing Great! Tell That to the Homeless.
Stats, stats, stats, and look at the Dow. But then there are the more than half million in our country that are homeless.
The economy is kicking into high gear according to many, but at the same time, the number of homeless has increased for the first time since the great recession, according to recent reporting by the Guardian.
There are many methodologies to calculate the numbers of homeless, but regardless of exact statistics, the number is too high, and the problem is not getting any better.
There is a variety of causes leading to homelessness, including extended unemployment, mental illness, addiction, and assimilation issues for returning veterans. Often, the cause includes some combination of all the above.
Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, is quoted as saying about the homeless, “This is not a federal problem, it’s everybody’s problem.”
As everybody’s problem, it would be up to everybody to put forward creative solutions for helping the homeless. One such idea has come from The Latest’s very own Jeff Hall.
In a piece for the Brentwood News, he argues that constructing “tent cities” may be a cost-effective way to provide living quarters and concentrated help with everything from mental health services to job training. Many, as he acknowledges, may say this idea is cruel, but is leaving them on the streets any less cruel?
Actually, homeless citizens across the country have long been gravitating organically towards creating makeshift tent cities or encampments. Recent reporting from the Washington Post chronicles the life, and the soon to be eviction, of residents that have been living in a tent encampment for up to 15 years in one area of Prince William County Virginia. In fact, it is estimated that there are upwards of 20 tent encampments in that county alone.
One would think that these encampment dwellers should all be shifted to homeless shelters, but there are often space issues and many homeless, particularly with mental illnesses, are not comfortable in such close quarters, that are typical with shelter settings.
The homeless are naturally looking for a sense of community and security, something that tent encampments provide a level of. Nationwide estimates place the number of tent communities or encampments in the hundreds, but it is hard to estimate this number, as they are constantly being forced out of existence or forced to move.
Some jurisdictions are starting to warm to the idea of what is already taking place across the country in an unofficial capacity. The city of Seattle Washington, for example has started the practice of sanctioning tent encampments. They are allowing encampments to remain on certain private and public property within the city. This is part of their Pathways Home Initiative to help reduce homelessness. The sanctioned encampments have intake procedures and have strict rules and codes of conduct.
Maybe, the homeless would not want to reside in tent cities or encampments that were run by local, state or federal governments, but the status quo is not working, and at least some nationwide tests of the tent city idea makes perfect sense.