“We're Only Borrowing Time [on this earth] Anyway...": Reconceptualizing "Home" Through the Lens of Tent Cities."
While many of these residents reject the label of homeless, these communities often called names like: Hobo camps, Bum camps, Homeless cities. While these aren't new, cities of more than 50 residents didn't become common until the late 1990s.
Internally some have structure (like mayors or voting structures) while others remain flexible and informal. In Nickelsville, WA she heard how being appointed or elected to positions within the communities could transform the individual and their self-esteem.
Informal housing is perceived as legitimate by those dwelling in it. The very notion of homelessness is a relatively new one, since 100 years ago Americans often went long periods without a house to call a home. By the 1950s, suburbs were such idealized housing that "substandard" housing was obliterated by efforts like urban renewal.
For many cities, the common solution is to frame this as a land use issue. Destroying a tent city is not described by the cities as destroying homes. It comes back to questions about what is a home.
The harsh Illinois winter created an interest in hardened shelters or huts. But the City didn't recognize these more humane alternatives, so it left the homeless in tents. "Tent cities are an unacceptable standard of living" and "A home is a residence" were key challenges that Abby spoke to.
Being with a group, or a spouse made people feel more at home. For many, the tent city is something they choose over a shelter. One resident said that if you can sit down in comfort and exhale, it is a start. Access seemed more important than ownership.
Dignity Village, Portland OR is city-recognized and big enough to be in Wikipedia and clearly visible on air photos. Tent City in Lakewood NJ has pictures on their web site but they are hidden in the trees.
Big questions: If building codes and zoning don't work, what is an appropriate standard of living? Do regulations make things worse rather than better? If it isn't urban blight, what is it? If Americans support single family residences as a standard, are tent cities closer to the American dream than group shelters?
The NYTimes just published a series of maps that show that suburbanization has resulted in a pattern that dramatizes the spatial patterns of separation between rich and poor.