Tag Archive for National Coalition for the Homeless

Tent Cities Provide a Temporary Alternative to Homelessness

"Nickelsville" homeless encampment (...

“Nickelsville” homeless encampment (named after Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels) towards 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. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the US and world economies cratered in 2007 there has been a large increase in homelessness. Supportive services have become overburdened, and many people have abandoned the shelter system altogether and moved into tent cities.

In 1990 Seattle had one of the first tent cities, created by a sponsoring organization called SHARE. Twelve years later Seattle became the first major American city to accept the basic tent city operating principles. Ever since, two tent cities have operated under city and local ordinances—and one has operated unsanctioned—each relocating every three months. They are hosted by a rotation of churches.

Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, in a 2010 report declared:


Tent cities are Americans’ de facto waiting room for affordable and accessible housing. All developed nations have supportive public housing with varying levels of volume and efficacy, but many housing options take months or years to get into.

It is ironic that while US homelessness is increasing, 11% of houses stand empty. Tent cities are a pragmatic, short-term way to widen the safety net for people in danger of losing their homes. If permanent housing for all homeless people becomes unrealistic, the model of transitional housing in organized tent cities could prevent both temporary and absolute homelessness.

Many churches like to host tent cities, as it allows them to help the people most in need.

Despite high unemployment, many tent city dwellers work day jobs, and some tent cities are based around employment opportunities. In Fresno, CA, for example, Little Tijuana is a predominantly Hispanic tent city comprised of many migrant workers who can’t afford housing or don’t want to take the risk of signing a lease.

Portland, Oregon’s Dignity Village is a self-governed, self-funded community founded by homeless people (all of whom have since moved on to permanent housing or elsewhere). In its 13-year life, it has evolved from a traditional tent city into an “eco-village,” with help from local non-profit organizations and community donations. Its houses are made from recycled materials, and amenities include 24-hour security, an organic farm and city-provided waste removal and recycling. This autonomous community remains relatively safe by throwing out residents who bring drugs or alcohol onto the site. Portland police believe that Dignity Village makes their jobs easier.

Seattle Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith concludes:


  We have people in this city sleeping outside. That’s reality. So let’s create as many options as we can.


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U.S. Senate Examines Hate Crimes Against the Homeless

MurderThe homeless are particularly vulnerable to violence and crime. Exposed on the street without shelter, they make appealing targets for the distorted personalities that prey on others. Recently, attacks on the homeless have been on the rise, and it’s finally drawing the attention of those in power.

David Hunt, a writer for Jacksonville.com, reports that, as of last Friday, attacks on the homeless in Florida are now considered a hate crime:

A law passed by this year by the Florida Legislature adds ‘homelessness’ to a list of protected classes in the state’s hate-crimes enhancement statutes, which already include traits such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Under the law, those who would be facing a year of jail time for battery could face as much as five years if the target of the attack is a homeless person.

Thankfully, this issue is attracting government’s attention not only in Florida. The U.S. Senate held a hearing last Wednesday, examining violent attacks against the homeless. The statistics are truly disturbing, and the trend of violence is increasing at an alarming rate. Just take a look at this testimony reported by Alex Ogle for AFP:

In many cases of the 117 ‘hate attacks’ against those living on the streets or in shelters in 2009, including the 43 murders, violent acts against the homeless ‘was almost a sport’ for attackers who see their victims as ‘unhuman,’ Florida police officer Richard Wierzbicki testified at the hearing.

Simone Manning-Moon, whose older brother Norris Gaynor was beaten to death by three teenagers with baseball bats and a rake handle, told the hearing that he was targeted ‘because he was homeless.’

The Norris Gaynor beating was caught on tape by the surveillance cameras and has led to the conviction of the boys involved. Here is a new report that includes the footage, below:

Now think about the 43 murders cited by Officer Wierzbicki. It makes for a grim picture indeed.

Ogle also reports another unsettling piece of testimony from Capitol Hill:

Homeless people have become a ‘socially acceptable target of aggression,’ noted Brian Levin, advisor to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and director of the California-based Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Whether classifying these attacks as hate crimes will make an effective change remains to be seen, but something needs to be done to stem the tide of violence. These are people’s daughters, brothers, mothers, and children that are living on the street, human beings already undergoing harsh trials that do not need to be exacerbated by the threat of injury or death.

Source: “US Senate urged to act on rising attacks on homeless,” AFP via Google News, 09/20/10
Source: “Hate crimes will include attacks on homeless,” Jacksonville.com, 09/29/10
Image by izarbeltza, used under its Creative Commons license.

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