Cities Journal

Tent City Fever Spreads In USA


Homeless encampments known as ‘tent cities’ are popping up across the USA.

Formed as an alternative to shelters and life on the streets, these communities are often set up offhighways, under bridges and in the woods. Some have systems and ‘mayors’ who determine the rules of the camp and who can and can’t join. Some are swamped with trash, dying food, human waste and drugs, others are relatively clean and drug-free due to their strict rules.

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.

The study states:

[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.

Tent cities are usually found in areas where shelter space is not available or housing unaffordable. Yet, many people say they choose to live here even when shelter is an option. They do so for one big reason: freedom.

Shelters typically have very rigid rules: many require guests to check in and out at certain times that can conflict with work schedules and they even do not allow couples to stay together. Drug and alcohol use is of course, prohibited, and some people don’t qualify for the subsidies they need to stay in a shelter because of a prior served jail time (only for certain crimes), or other reasons.

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