The BBC ran an interesting program the other night: 'America's homeless resort to tent cities
'. If the iplayer doesn't work for you, you can watch the half hour segment on youtube
. Here's the synopsis:
America's homeless resort to tent cities
Panorama's Hilary Andersson comes face to face with the reality of poverty in America and finds that, for some, the last resort has become life in a tented encampment.
Just off the side of a motorway on the fringes of the picturesque town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a mismatched collection of 30 tents tucked in the woods has become home - home to those who are either unemployed, or whose wages are so low that they can no longer afford to pay rent.
Conditions are unhygienic. There are no toilets and electricity is only available in the one communal tent where the campers huddle around a wood stove for warmth in the heart of winter.
Ice weighs down the roofs of tents, and rain regularly drips onto the sleeping campers' faces.
Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities - they represent the bleak reality of America's poverty crisis.
According to census data, 47 million Americans now live below the poverty line - the most in half a century - fuelled by several years of high unemployment.
One of the largest tented camps is in Florida and is now home to around 300 people. Others have sprung up in New Jersey and Portland.
In the Ann Arbor camp, Alana Gehringer, 23, has had a hacking cough for the last four months.
"The black mould - it was on our pillows, it was on our blankets, we were literally rubbing our faces in it sleeping every night," she said of wintering in a tent.
The camp is run by the residents themselves, with the help of a local charity group. Calls have come in from the hospital emergency room, the local police and the local homeless shelter to see if they can send in more.
"Last night, for example, we got a call saying they had six that couldn't make it into the shelter and... they were hoping that we could place them... So we usually get calls, around nine or 10 a night," said Brian Durance, a camp organiser.
Michigan's Republican-controlled state government has been locked into a programme of severe budget cuts in an attempt to balance its books.
The cuts have included benefits for many of the state's poorest residents.
Between the cuts and the economic conditions pinching, there is increased pressure on homeless shelters.
Michigan's Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, was asked about the reality of public agencies in his state suggesting the homeless live in tents.
"That is absolutely not acceptable, and we have to take steps and policies in order to make sure that those people have the skills they need to be independent, and it won't happen overnight," he said.
There are an estimated 5,000 people living in the dozens of camps that have sprung up across America.
The largest camp, Pinella's Hope in central Florida - a region better known for the glamour of Disneyworld - is made up of neat rows of tents spread out across a 13-acre plot.
The Catholic charity that runs it has made laundry available, as well as computers and phones.
Many of the camps are organised and hold regular meetings to divide up camp chores and agree on community rules. They have become semi-permanent homes for some residents, who see little prospect of getting jobs soon.
These tent cities - and this level of poverty - are images that many Americans associate with the Great Depression.
Unemployment in America today has not reached the astronomical levels of the 1930s, but barring a short spike in 1982, it has not been this high since the Depression era.
There are now 13 million unemployed Americans, which is three million more than when President Barack Obama was first elected.
The stark reality is that many of them are people who very recently lived comfortable middle-class lives.
For them, the economic downturn came too fast and many have been forced to trade their middle-class homes for lives in shelters, motels and at the far extreme, tented encampments.
Naturally the presenter's reaction was one of horror and disgust at the 'extreme', 'last resort' living conditions, with the implied solution of re-metabolising them as quickly as possible into the supposed normality of work and rent-slavery on the bottom rung of society - what Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley presumably means by '[taking] steps and policies in order to make sure that those people have the skills they need to be independent'.
What I saw, however, was potential
. I also saw where these skills I've been learning over the years (wild food foraging, herbalism, bushcraft etc.) most urgently need to go. Why not, instead of leading these people back into total dependence on the parasitic capitalist economy, teach them some true
independence skills? How hard can it be to find a solution for black mould, coughs, or icy tarpaulins? There are so many simple, low-tech methods of healing, the knowledge of which could be spread about by word-of-mouth at practically no cost to immeasurably improve the over all quality of these peoples' lives without indebting them to industrial medicine. I know quite a few people in the UK who live comfortably in similar conditions throughout the year. Through choice!
As DQ suggested so heretically in Beyond Civilization
, why not help the homeless succeed
at being homeless? I don't see why, given half a chance, tent cities couldn't evolve to provide viable - indeed, preferable - longterm solutions for the urban poor. The one shown on the program didn't look that bad to me! Admittedly some might be worse with crime & drug problems (as pointed out by several redditors
) but, as the Occupy people have been finding out, this could be seen as just another challenge to cope with & find autonomous solutions to.
As for the stereotypical pictures of a run-down quasi post-apocalyptic Detroit, depicted as the worst-of-all-possible-worlds by the BBC, I note Ran Prieur's
Feb.13 comments as a counter-balance:
The permanent solution is to build alternate economies which have negative feedback, not positive feedback, in the concentration of wealth. [...] To join these new economies, people first have to get out from under the control of the old economy. Basically that means we have to get food and shelter without money. This brings us to a third, lower-profile effective political movement, which is mostly fighting at the local level: occupying vacant properties, changing laws to legalize the occupation of vacant properties, and changing laws to expand urban farming rights.
My present hosts are at the leading edge of this movement in Buffalo, which has the same opportunities that more famously exist in Detroit. They bought this house from the city for a dollar, on the condition that they bring it up to code. Yesterday they showed me an acre of contiguous lots where they're planning to make a farm, across the street from a brick building that they got in exchange for doing a few weeks of work for the owner. They've ordered 23 chickens, and Buffalo has a new lengthy and restrictive chicken ordinance, but the city is on the defensive. I'm curious to see how far we can roll these laws back, if we keep pushing.
Anyway, for me this goes to show the importance of keeping knowledge colloquial and, as far as possible, making the effort to send it down the hierarchy to benefit those who could make best use of it in their immediate situations. Seems to me that too many wild foodies attempt to put a hefty price on their knowledge in an attempt to sell it to the high bidders in restaurants and the upper-class city folk with a transient interest. Not to say that folks shouldn't try to make a living from this stuff, necessarily. Just that they should also consider making the knowledge cheaply/freely-available to the underpriviledged who have the greatest need.
Anybody have experiences of tent cities or homeless living combined with rewilding?