Clearing Obamavilles: Evicting homeless from their tents, shanties, and cardboard boxes
Homeless people settle in areas not favored by local communities; some municipalities forcibly remove the homeless leaving them no place to go.
Modern American culture can trace its roots on the North American continent to pioneering English settlers. Life on the frontier is harsh, and each family unit is self-reliant. In a frontier society, if people didn’t work, and if they didn’t produce their own food and shelter, then they died. Fear of death from starvation or exposure was very real, and anyone who wasn’t motivated to produce something of value to themselves or others faced the near certainty of painful death. In a frontier society, there are no bailouts.
We have made much progress over the last four centuries, and the fear of death from lack of food has been largely eliminated. Private and public shelters have lessened the fear of death from exposure, but America still has a problem with homelessness largely because as a society, we have been unwilling to provide individually-controlled private shelter as an entitlement. The reason we do this is simple. The fear of homelessness is the essential motivation to get people to work to produce goods and services in our society; if this fear is removed, we create an underclass of dependency: the welfare state — or worse yet, the entitlement state.
If you ask many middle-class loanowners in coastal California, and they will tell you that they are entitled to a 2,000+ SF detached single-family home pimped out with pergraniteel — and they will really mean it. The sense of entitlement in coastal California is appalling to anyone viewing it from the outside (and even some of us viewing it from the inside).
There are places on earth where there is no housing entitlement. Even the US has a problem with homelessness and people living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, despite the plenitude of shelters to accommodate the homeless in most areas. Homelessness is often a lifestyle choice; believe it or not, there are people who will chose to live in squalor to sustain what they consider freedom.
So what should we do with those who are homeless by choice? Do we need to set up special homeless districts? There are no easy answers.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) Homeless encampments known as “tent cities” are popping up across the country.
Are they known as “tent cities?” Back in the Great Depression, they were known as Hoovervilles because President Hoover was largely credited (rightly or wrongly) with failing to revive the economy and put people back to work. During the Depression, we had chronic unemployment and millions of people who gave up looking for work — much like we have today.
Many people believe these “tent cities” spring up because the chronically unemployed have no other options. If that’s the case, these should be called “Obamavilles”, shouldn’t they?
Formed as an alternative to shelters and street-living, these makeshift communities are often set up off of highways, under bridges and in the woods. Some have “mayors” who determine the rules of the camp and who can and can’t join, others are a free-for-all. Some are overflowing with trash, old food, human waste and drug paraphernalia, others are relatively clean and drug-free.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty documented media accounts of tent cities between 2008 and 2013, and estimated that there are more than 100 tent communities in the United States — and it says the encampments are on the rise.
“[T]here have been increasing reports of homeless encampments emerging in communities across the country, primarily in urban and suburban areas and spanning states as diverse as Hawaii, Alaska, California, and Connecticut,” the organization’s study states.
Why are we seeing more Obamavilles? Is it due to chronic unemployment. If that’s the case, it suggests policy options for improving the economy. However, if the reason these communities spring up is because a lifestyle choice of its residents, then a completely different policy response is in order.
Tent cities are most common in areas where shelter space is scarce or housing unaffordable. Yet, many people say they choose to live in a tent even when shelter is an option. And they do so for one big reason: freedom.
Shelters typically have strict rules: many require guests to check in and out at certain times that can conflict with work schedules and they often don’t allow couples to stay together. Drug and alcohol use is also prohibited, and some people don’t qualify for the subsidies they need to stay in a shelter because of a prior jail time (for certain crimes), or other reasons.
“Shelter is one step away from jail,” said Dave, who lived in a tent city in Camden, N.J., that CNNMoney visited.
So what should we do with those people? Do we clear a space, fence it off, and allow anyone to live there? These people want freedom, but the only way to accommodate their lifestyle and keep the rest of society safe would be to create a giant enclosure similar to the mytical city in “Escape from New York” or perhaps the modern Gaza Strip and forcibly relocate the homeless where they can enjoy their “freedom”.
Another resident of the same camp, Mike, said the only work he has been able to find is part-time road maintenance, which takes place at night. Because the shelters in the area would have required him to be inside by a certain time, like 10 p.m., staying there wasn’t an option. Setting up his own tent in the woods gave him the freedom to come and go as he pleased.
Some residents also view tent cities as safer than shelters because they say there’s more of a sense of community.
As these encampments continue to spread, public officials are responding in different ways.
The NLCHP found that of the more than 100 camps, only eight were actually considered legal. Ten tent cities weren’t officially recognized, but the city or county wasn’t doing anything to get rid of them. The vast majority of encampments, however, have been shut down and occupants have been evicted.
I don’t know that the answer is, but I don’t think it’s this….
One of the most recent evictions took place in Camden, N.J., this week, when the state, county and city joined forces to shut down multiple tent cities and kick out the residents. While the county worked with the occupants to find them somewhere to go, Camden’s shelters were already full and many people ended up on the streets.
Instead of evicting people from tent cities, the NLCHP says the root of the issue — unaffordable housing — needs to be addressed.
“Encampments and tent cities have emerged as a means of self-help for homeless individuals to survive and find shelter, safety and a sense of community,” the report states. “Ultimately, the solution to the proliferation of encampments across the United States is the provision of affordable housing.”
Affordable housing? We had that two years ago, and ever since there’s been a large conspiracy among lenders, officials at the federal reserve, and bureaucrats to inflate house prices and make them unaffordable. We give lip service to affordable housing, but our policies are all geared toward making housing unaffordable irrespective of the consequences.