Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tent Cities: The Invisible Residents of Hooverville

One of the under-reported stories is the increasing number of tent cities that have sprung up across America in the last few years, chiefly as a result of the economic and (continuing) financial crisis of 2007-2010.

Millions are out of work, and even if people have some temporary day jobs, it's not enough money for permanent housing. Many good, hard-working and, even, educated people end up homeless, often with young children, through no fault of their own.

Their world shatters. They lose their jobs. They get sick. They get hurt. They lose their home. It happens every day. It can happen to you. It's a message that goes against conventional thinking. It's not pretty. It's not comfortable. Yet, it's true.

Assuredly, the tent cities make for a bleak, yet arresting sight. Small wonder, then, that most of the mainstream media is hesitant to report it. Perhaps, it might make everyone feel better if these people were invisible. Although, in all fairness, The Oprah Winfrey Show, reported on this trend on June 19, 2009.

Tent Cities, makeshift shanty towns, have been erected in increasing numbers of American cities like Ann Arbor. Michigan; Seattle, Washington; Reno, Nevada; Sacramento, California; and Saint Petersburg, Florida. Canada is represented, too, with such major cities like Toronto, Ontario; and Victoria, British Columbia. 

These makeshift shelters are a throwback to the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the quickly built Hoovervilles, so named after the then president, Herbert Hoover. He was blamed for leading the nation and the world into a long-lasting and devastating depression.

Tent City of Great Depression: Squatters' shacks along the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. Many of the men living here during the winter work in the nearby orchards of the Williamette and Yakima Valley in the summer. July 1936. Photo Credit: Arthur Rothstein. Courtesy: US Federal Government

Home ownership rates following

The name Hooverville, however,  has also been used to describe the tent cities now commonly found in modern-day America. Other less-common names used are Bushvilles and Obamavilles, though the original name sticks, essentially as a symbolic reminder that we might be rolling down the hill to an economic crisis similar to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

I do not say this lightly. There is no doubt that the American Dream is fading to black, evaporating in the financial crisis created by large banks and Wall Street. Today, about two of three Americans own homes, the lowest level since 2000.

And new home sales are at their lowest rate since 1963, reports the New York Times. It will likely get worse. The rate could plummet to about 62% as early as 2012 and certainly hit that figure by 2020. That would match the rates of 1960, well before the housing bubble, and well before property speculation became an obsession.

Tent City During Jobless Economic Recovery: Nickelsville homeless encampment (named after former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, mayor from 2002-2010) at the end of its 3-month stay in the parking lot of the University Congregational United Church of Christ in the University District, Seattle, Washington, The Tent City was dismantled in October 2009. Photo Credit: Joe Mabel, 2009.
The result of all this information is telling us something important. Millions of homes will be foreclosed by the banks, trust companies and mortgage lenders. Millions of families will be disrupted. Millions of people will have no place to live. The cost to society: Unknown.

We will likely see many more Hoovervilles. And with each new tent city, it is likely that the municipal authorities, citing health and safety concerns, and municipal by-laws, will evict these people once again and dismantle the tent cities. A case of NIMBY.

But that is only another temporary solution, shuttling people around, trying to make them invisible (see Mark Horvath and the blog, Warning: Be prepared to cry after viewing real heart-wrenching stories from real people.)

There is a far better, more humane solution that bestows dignity to people. The banks, financial institutions and mortgage lenders could act contrary to the way they have historically operated—namely, with compassion, with understanding, with patience.

Yet, given Wall Street's disdain for Main Street, that's highly unlikely. What a shame.

Note: I would like to hear your stories and views on the economic crisis. Many of us are going through very difficult economic and trying times. The Poor, the working poor, the struggling family should not be stigmatized. You can help make a change and a difference in society. Everyone should be able to live life with dignity. I love to hear your stories.

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