Tent Cities, One Way to Make a Dent in Homelessness

— Andy Wade —

Sara Bernard - Grist Magazine- used with permission

Sara Bernard – Grist Magazine- used with permission

A recent article in Grist Magazine took a look at Tent Cities in Seattle. I have friends who have worked with Nicklesville, one of those tent cities, and others who have helped sponsor them. There’s a lot of fear about tent cities. Won’t they attract drugs, alcohol, and crime? The statistics reveal, no. In fact crime often drops near tent cities because of the joint efforts residents who self-patrol and that of law enforcement. In Hood River we share in a national affordable housing crisis. There are good people working to address this issue, but the needs are huge.

From the Grist article:

Tent cities provide an additional option for couples and families – and people who simply don’t feel safe or comfortable in shelters. They also create stability and safety for people who would otherwise be caught in the intricate web of often-contradictory laws that criminalize activities that are a simple matter of survival for homeless people: sleeping in parks or on benches overnight, building unauthorized shelters, urinating in public.

These laws make up what Sara Rankin, an associate professor at Seattle University School of Law and director of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project, calls “a very well-established trend of trying to push poor people out of public spaces.” These people are being penalized “just for existing,” she says.

Rankin and her students just released a series of in-depth policy briefs on such laws in the state of Washington. Among other things, the reports find that, since 2000, Washington has found 288 new ways to make it illegal to live on the street. This can throw otherwise law-abiding people into the criminal justice system, Rankin says, “not only making it more difficult for people to get out of homelessness, but ensuring that they stay there.”

And that’s one argument for sanctioning tent cities: Barring the elimination of these laws, it’s a way to stop punishing people for being homeless.

I’ve often thought about our housing crisis in Hood River. Our high cost of housing is largely driven by our scenic location which draws in tourists. For all the benefits brought by the tourism industry, a decrease in available housing and an increase in housing costs have been one of the negative results. My brain churns with ideas about how to use the positive aspects of tourism to address the negative. One thought would be to secure land to build a yurt city as hip rentals for tourists. A certain percentage of the income from these rentals would go to funding another yurt city used for emergency, temporary, and transitional housing.

But that’s just one idea. The reality is that we need to get outside the box, perhaps way outside, and find truly imaginative and synergistic ways to address a serious problem which ultimately affects us all.

Use the comments section below to share your creative ideas.