Tent City, America
December 16, 2015 8:54 AM   Subscribe

 
Richest country in the world, and yet we have people living in tents.

Un-fucking-believable.
posted by freakazoid at 9:17 AM on December 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


For such a religious country we sure don't fear Hell.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:19 AM on December 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


Hell is for poor people. If you have money it's proof God loves you.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:21 AM on December 16, 2015 [20 favorites]


On a related note, a homeless man in Virginia was found to have dug a hole in the ground to sleep in in the woods behind the Fairfax Police Department. He was staying out of the rain and educating himself with books he'd found.

Don't worry, though: they took away his hole in the ground and his books and arrested him. God bless America.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:21 AM on December 16, 2015 [30 favorites]


There was a Banks line in one of the Culture novels about civs using money always being poor. Resource poor, and needing to ration things through enforced scarcity, or morally poor. As for whatever reason they wouldn't stop hundreds of millions of dollars geysering out of the tops of their businesses or trillions from being spent on weapons that endanger use through their us or existence.

Little hazy on the second half, might not be 100% as written, maybe.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:26 AM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Money is a sign of poverty," because money is a system for determining who gets to have stuff, when there isn't enough stuff for everyone to have whatever they want. The problem right now is that our politics is stuck in a scarcity mindset that equates "able to pay for" with "morally deserving of." This traps us in situations like our healthcare system where we spend more money trying to figure out who deserves healthcare or not than it would cost to just provide care universally.
posted by rustcrumb at 9:48 AM on December 16, 2015 [32 favorites]


It's almost a tautology: money is a way of allocating resources. If you have to do that, then by definition you have inequality of access to resource and therefore some form of poverty. Thus use money==poor.
posted by bonehead at 9:48 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Letting poor people lie in the gutter: a genuine solution or merely a quick fix?

How about "c: neither a nor b"?
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:51 AM on December 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


It depends. Someone may want to live in a van or tent because they want to save money for other goals or just because they love roughing it. But involuntary? Get those people a house for fuck's sake.
posted by Talez at 9:54 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]




Occupy Madison was able to (after much struggling) get the city to create a "Tiny Homes" setup for (some) homeless people. Obviously it doesn't solve all problems (still plenty of homeless here), but it's still nice that they created a sort of Habitat for Humanity thing where sweat equity got them the ability to live in them.

Here's an article from September on them. I'm not sure what the lastest word is... But that's fairly recent, at least.
posted by symbioid at 10:05 AM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Hooverville" was a deceptively powerful label in 1930s, we need a modern equivalent, Ryantown, or Kochfield, maybe.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:14 AM on December 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


Trumptown!

Tiny little homes with modest gold gilt trim.
posted by sammyo at 10:22 AM on December 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


"Hooverville" was a deceptively powerful label in 1930s, we need a modern equivalent, Ryantown, or Kochfield, maybe.

Why not Obamavania? I'm all for equal opportunity buck-stoppage.
posted by turntraitor at 10:23 AM on December 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


It won't work anymore. People like Trump, Ryan ,and the Koch brothers would take pride in those names.

The new breed revels in the poor being poor.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:23 AM on December 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


It won't work anymore. People like Trump, Ryan ,and the Koch brothers would take pride in those names.

For shaming tactics to work, the target has to be capable of feeling shame. That's why I think pressing Democrats on these issues has a much greater chance of success than trying to get the party of You Must Have Done Something To Deserve This Fate to do something about it.
posted by turntraitor at 10:25 AM on December 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Every day I drive by 2-3 tents in the vicinity of Washington Hospital Center in DC (where the city recently cleared a tent encampment) on my way to work. In some ways this actually seems like an improvement in chronic homelessness here - when I was regularly doing outreach with Food Not Bombs and Community for Creative Nonviolence in the 90s, people sleeping rough, on the ground, with little more than a few blankets or some plastic sheeting was the norm. I don't know if tent prices have dropped or they've become easier to come by as donations, but at least more folks now have some portable, partial shelter from the elements that frees them from the indignities of the shelters.

TLDR; even with its drawbacks, microhousing, if humanely managed, would be a big step up in a country where the destitute even having tents represents a step up.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:30 AM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


In our last house, we lived near an area where people camped a bunch. I kind of let them be for a really long time, even though we had to traverse that area quite a bit to do our normal weekly errands. There was a huge cadre of (mostly fairly liberal, but ultra religious) people in my neighborhood that would help these people out and get their tents set up and generally try to make their lives nicer. It was always kind of sketchy (offers for drugs, prostitution, etc), but things got really ugly and dangerous last spring. Two folks monsters, offered me cash to have sex with my toddler. That was kind of the end of the line for me. I spent the last couple months we had in that house walking up and down our section of the trail, and calling the police with detailed reports of where illegal camping was happening

Needless to say, I'm vehemently opposed to legal homeless camps. A couple of the formal homeless camps here are trying to set up extralegal communities, that are even policed by their own. This is insanity! They need to be further incorporated into our societies, not left to create their own. Its not safe for the people who have to live there, and its not safe for the rest of the public either. That kind of concentration of poverty and addiction just isn't in anyone's best interest. Those same liberal, religious people were always so confused at how vocal and violently opposed I was to the concept, and several of them accused me of NIMBYism…the part they never bothered to ask was how much more in tax dollars I'd be willing to pay to help all these folks out and just give them a home. Its perfectly possible to be anti-homless camp, and anti-homlessness.

Legalizing these camps isn't the right move, giving people fucking houses is.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:33 AM on December 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


I often wonder why so many people note with disgust the fact that we in our nation have this or that problem and and are the richest nation in the world. The wealth "we" have is concentrated in a somewhat small group, and though there was a middle class, this group is fast fading away too. Our nation is capitalist economically but that does not mean we use the wealth we have to provide for all our citizens, ie, health care, schooling, housing, etc.
posted by Postroad at 10:39 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


"make them semi-permanent settlements of micro-housing"

Is it fair to describe that as a slum? I'm not American so I'm not sure if I have the regional connotations right, but the word is conspicuously absent in such a lengthy article that includes such a wide range of terms from different periods and areas, and I'm wondering why that is. In the USA, is "slum" more associated with poor minority crime-ridden city neighbourhoods than with shantytowns built by homeless?
posted by anonymisc at 10:42 AM on December 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


"I often wonder why so many people note with disgust the fact that we in our nation have this or that problem and and are the richest nation in the world

You answer your own question:

...Our nation is capitalist economically but that does not mean we use the wealth we have to provide for all our citizens, ie, health care, schooling, housing, etc."


Because that is disgusting.
posted by anonymisc at 10:46 AM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


anonymisc: " In the USA, is "slum" more associated with poor crime-ridden minority neighbourhoods in a city than with shantytowns built by homeless?"

In American argot, slums are typically permanent buildings, built or maintained to substandard levels. Prior to WWII they were highly likely to burn down in horrific building fires; these day they're going to lead poison you or be filled with black mold. Slums can be apartment blocks or single-family houses; they key point is that they're poorly maintained to the point of being dangerous. You generally use it where there are a neighborhood full of slum-buildings together forming a slum, but a "slum lord" might own just one or two rental houses that he fails to maintain to safe standards.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:57 AM on December 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


Or we could just make guarantee everyone has a place to live. That being the solution to homelessness. Just like guaranteeing everyone a job is the solution is the solution to joblessness.

Oh I'm sorry, I forgot, I'm supposed to mumble some bullshit about disruption, robots and dole checks for everyone.
posted by wuwei at 11:01 AM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well the terrorists something tough encryption Syria bomb.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2015


"Hooverville" was a deceptively powerful label in 1930s, we need a modern equivalent, Ryantown, or Kochfield, maybe.

Yeah, that exists. I think you could probably do a great FPP on the pros and cons of Scott Morrow, actually, but I don't have the energy to look it all up...
posted by smidgen at 11:14 AM on December 16, 2015


Social services and supports have been slashed, chipped away at, cut, since Reagan until there's no safety net, there's no help, and people are hurting and even dying. ACA (Obamacare) is about the only improvement I can think of. So instead helping people, we just keep normalizing the unacceptable. We have housing, but you can't afford it? Too bad, live in a tent. You have a job, but can't afford to feed your family? Too bad, have crappy nutrition and hunger. You can't afford a car, and public transportation sucks and costs more than you can afford? Too bad, no job for you. You have a really crappy job and need training/ education to get a better one? You'll have to take out some big loans at usurious rates, and good luck getting out from under them. Can't afford birth control? Too bad, get pregnant. Can't afford or get access to an abortion? Too bad, have a baby. Have a baby you can't take care of? Too bad, fuck you and your baby. Your job doesn't pay enough to support yourself, let alone your family? Too bad, we don't care because our stock portfolios are happy.

And, you know, a lot of people who are leading this country don't care. They claim to be Christian, but fill in a rant about that. They are all for people with money, all for big wealthy corporations, and everybody else is on their own. It's not getting better. Sure, go live in a tent, be hungry, be miserable. We're happy to normalize the unacceptable.
posted by theora55 at 11:18 AM on December 16, 2015 [23 favorites]


Why not Obamavania?

Well sure, you can take the Green Lantern theory of the Presidency and say that all things bad that happen are the fault of the sitting president, but last I checked, Obama wasn't the one proposing people subsist on catfood.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:20 AM on December 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


As someone who has been safely and happily living in a hammock under a 30 dollar tarp for about 8 of the last 12 months, I don't really want a house. I don't want an apartment. I don't want to buy into the system of a permanent structure and the bills and all of the accumulation of things required to take part in this aspect of modern life.

I do want my own piece of land or something more stable than the forced roaming required for legal, paid camping, but at most I just want a very, very tiny house or trailer or something, but my dream ideal is a nice stand of cedars or something with access to water and minimal electricity, mainly to stay online and work on art/music.

Keeping my belongings and lifestyle simple and small and honest has been incredibly good for me and assuaging my guilt about what I see as excessive consumerism and material comforts, rather than learning to adapt to nature and live more directly in tune with it, if only a little. (This isn't Walden Pond, here. Or maybe it is. I like human food and clean laundry and sinfully hot showers, but I don't need to own those things, just have access to them.)

My point is that there are a lot of people who choose being home free because it agrees with them more. Sure, this isn't inclusive of most people outdoors, but there are more than just a few of us out here who want to be here.

Hell, its getting down into freezing temps and I really just want it to snow. I've never camped in snow. I've been in 10-20 below, but not out in the snow. I'm hoping it's more interesting and fun than sleet/very cold and wet rain.
posted by loquacious at 11:26 AM on December 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


In Seattle the biggest tent city is called "Nickelsville," after former mayor Greg Nickels, under whose administration it was first set up.

Elected officials in America tend to think of tent cities as problems to be cleared. In Seattle, which despite its problems is still marginally more decent than most other parts of the US, this generally involves a slow-moving process that gets input from the tent city residents themselves and ensures that no one has their vital living supplies destroyed. This is an evil strategy, but it's much less evil than what happens in California. Here in Oakland there was a recent tent city clearing where the California Highway Patrol, without warning, announced one morning that they'd be confiscating any tents that were still on site that evening, along with everything in those tents. This was carefully designed to fuck over the tent city residents — anyone who left for work before the announcement came home in the evening to find that the cops had stolen their homes and everything in them. What's more, they saw fit to do this in the middle of the winter — the winters here are mild, of course, but even so December is the worst possible time to have all your stuff taken from you.

California liberals despise poor people, and they express this sentiment by getting the cops to steal and destroy poor peoples' stuff in the hopes that they'll either go away or just drop dead.

In the bizarre alternate universe where I ran things, I would set up a city agency to specifically provide services for tent cities — frequently cleaned port-a-potties, maybe even real public toilets for tent city residents, shower facilities, electrical service, lots of warm blankets, large wall tents big enough for real beds (think the tents that the soldiers in M*A*S*H lived in) rather than little pup tents, all of this ultimately with an eye toward building real free public housing for tent city residents. In this alternate world (call it You Can't Tip a Buickstan), we'd use eminent domain to claim vacant lots and underutilized lots (surface parking lots, most especially) for conversion to microhousing. I'd also coordinate with activist groups (NOT with the police, who can kindly fuck off if they even think of setting foot in a tent city) to get tent cities the support they need to set up robust community-managed security patrols. Basically, instead of clearing tent cities, I would support plans to get tent city residents into better housing, while also making a real effort (and spending real money) to help make tent cities themselves into pleasant communities for as long as they're necessary.

Tent city residents are the most important people in the city, and they should be treated that way.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:26 AM on December 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


... the immediate problem of relieving homelessness that largely ignores the more fundamental problem of ensuring decent housing for all citizens. As such, it’s all too clear that..." it's exactly the direction we're going to be sold on.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:31 AM on December 16, 2015


loquatious, no one is suggesting forcing you or others who wish to live like that to move into houses, and no one considers what you're doing by choice to be the problem.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:37 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


WHO RUN BARTERTOWN?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:41 AM on December 16, 2015


Edit/update: people are messaging me offering help. To be super clear, that wasn't a cry for help. I'm pretty well stocked and I'm employed and off of all public assistance for the first time in like ten years, and I'm pretty stoked on my life right now. I'm working on music and trying to start a music festival and stuff.

Please donate to your local shelters or go buy warm wool socks for people in your neighborhood. I can attest that the Kirkland brand merino wool socks are awesome for camping and affordable, and work great!
posted by loquacious at 11:49 AM on December 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


In Seattle, we also have indigent folks in RVs parked on city streets. Some RVs double as places to run prostitution and drug businesses. We had one RV that ran a meth cook and burned down about a half mile down the street from us, with a standing pool of water, toxic chemicals and garbage for a good couple weeks. Capitalism is bad, etc. but I think the city is mostly shrugging its shoulders about the associated problems with homelessness, allowing tent cities and RVs to accumulate as an organic "solution" to a larger set of problems it does not know how to deal with.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:53 AM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


a genuine solution or merely a quick fix?

How 'bout we call it neither and instead admit what it is: absolute shit. And while we're at it let's also admit we should be fucking ashamed that this question even came up.
posted by tommasz at 11:58 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


In Seattle, we also have indigent folks in RVs parked on city streets. Some RVs double as places to run prostitution and drug businesses. We had one RV that ran a meth cook and burned down about a half mile down the street from us, with a standing pool of water, toxic chemicals and garbage for a good couple weeks.

I know a number of people (students and service industry workers for the most part) who live in RVs, in backyard tents, etc, and my partner and I would be seriously considering buying and moving into an RV right now if we didn't have a rent controlled apartment.

Like, I don't see why RVs present a unique or special problem here. All of the things that you just said about RVs are also things you can say about houses, apartments, and condos — you may recall the big meth lab explosion that happened in an apartment building in Shoreline last year.

I'm going to politely ignore the claim that RVs are problematic because sometimes sex workers run businesses from them — really, we should help sex workers in our neighborhoods organize for better working conditions rather than thinking of them as a problem to be gotten rid of.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:05 PM on December 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Social services and supports have been slashed, chipped away at, cut, since Reagan until there's no safety net, there's no help, and people are hurting and even dying.

This is what I keep coming around to.

There is no place for a teenager to go when his/her religious parents kick him/her out of the house for being queer. There is no place for a teenager to go when Mom tells her, "Quit lying about my boyfriend! You're making trouble." There are few places for children who are raising themselves because their parents can't or won't do it. We have no mental health infrastructure to keep the mentally ill safe and/or treated. We do not provide for our veterans when they come back from wars with broken minds and bodies. We do not have safety nets for women who must flee the men who thought keeping them pregnant would mean they had to stick around. We allow the health insurance industry to hound people into homelessness for a dollar.

As a society, we do not take care of our children, our frightened, our sick, our damaged. I know many people do what they can on an individual level, but we can -- and should -- hold our government to the standard of protecting the interests of its most vulnerable citizens. Spoiler alert: Those citizens typically do not have the word "incorporated" in their names, nor do they trade publicly on the NYSE.
posted by sobell at 12:06 PM on December 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


Is this more cost-effective than just paying the rent and basic utilities on studio or 1-bedroom apartments? I seriously doubt it.

Providing municipal services to tent cities and/or dealing with the consequences of the lack of services (e.g., dysentery is actually a thing again, for fuck's sake!) seems like an ass-backwards way to deal with the homeless.

From everything I've read, the "Housing First" approach is not only more successful than any other strategy for combatting homelessness and its associated problems but also saves taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per previously homeless person in reduced visits to the ER and/or jail. Even if you don't care about the homeless, the cost savings should make this a no-brainer.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:46 PM on December 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


I mean, dormlike micro-apartments are all the rage these days anyway, right? So, give developers zoning exemptions and other incentives to build more affordable versions by cutting out the fancy amenities designed to appeal to tech workers. Pay the rent on a portion of the apartments -- spread out among different buildings and different parts of town so you don't get the clustering problems that plagued the housing projects of yesteryear -- and give them to the homeless. Sorted.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:59 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


All of the things that you just said about RVs are also things you can say about houses, apartments, and condos... I'm going to politely ignore the claim that RVs are problematic because sometimes sex workers run businesses from them

I think where prostitution intersects with the manufacturing and consumption of hard drugs in a mobile setting is problematic. For me, this is less a moral judgement about the sex work trade (which I'm actually okay with legalizing and unionizing), and more about the physical safety and health of women involved, in an environment that is even more dangerous than usual.

Also, with fixed housing, you don't have violent and property crime migrating anywhere but where the police can currently focus their limited resources. A house isn't transient and doesn't exist in a vacuum — there is paperwork involved in owning property, and there are landlords, companies or property owners who can more easily be held legally accountable for patterns of repeated criminal behavior. Police can more easily protect people when the problem doesn't keep moving around from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Beyond all that, someone on one of the online forums discussing this (Seattle Weekly? Stranger? can't find it) suggests that some kind of resolution would come faster if these RVs were parked in front of Mayor Murray's house. At the end of the day, when you have a burned-out chemical dump hanging out in your neighborhood, it's hard not to find some element of truth in that bitter statement.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:05 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can anyone imagine a president even thinking about proposing FDR's Second Bill of Rights today?
posted by entropicamericana at 1:17 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can anyone imagine a president even thinking about proposing FDR's Second Bill of Rights today?

Bernie Sanders.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:20 PM on December 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


The trick with dorm-like micro apartments is going to be the fact that a lot of the people who need housing are a mess - addicted, mentally ill, physically ill, not good at sustaining human connections. This is one of the things that makes homeless people often hate shelters - the other homeless people.

Some people, their primary problem is homelessness, and once they have stable housing their mental health improves (able to sleep deeply, less chronic stress) and so does their physical health.

Some people are homeless because they have trouble managing the things that help them stay housed, and those people are going to need some kind of fairly intensive support - therapy, case management, helpful nudging, whatever. If there are a lot of folks who need intensive support in one microhousing site, that place is going to deteriorate and become dangerous unless it is really well managed. What's more, that space may become actively dangerous for the more vulnerable in the group. This is what I worry about. The people who are merely homeless are easy to help, or would be easy to help in a decent society.

I worry that if there's traction for this kind of thing at all, the people who are damaged are either going to be warehoused in dangerous situations or they're going to be subject to prison-like authoritarian conditions, because those people are difficult to help and it takes time, and we as a country are very, very not into the "let's pay a case manager to gently support you in recovery from your situation, and we will hope to see incremental improvement over the next few years".
posted by Frowner at 1:25 PM on December 16, 2015 [21 favorites]


I mean, basically what we need is plain old housing for everyone who is ready for plain old housing, well-run supportive housing that focuses on various issues for folks with various problems and some well-run and non-coercive mental health shelters for people who have long term mental health concerns that prevent them from taking care of themselves.
posted by Frowner at 1:27 PM on December 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


I mean, shit, I'm an anti-welfare-state Libertarian and even I can see the obvious solution to this problem! You can go on and on forever about personal responsibility, handouts, bootstraps, etc. but the simple fact is the vast majority of people need a certain baseline quality of life before they have any hope of actually directing the trajectory of their lives and not everyone can get that from their families.

Meanwhile, since turning people away from the ER and not arresting people for drunk & disorderly or minor property crimes aren't politically viable options, we need to get everyone into permanent housing with basic services (water, sewer, garbage, electricity, heating/cooling) because people with a stable place to live choose healthier lifestyles and commit fewer crimes as per pretty much every study ever on the topic.

A tent city will never be able to provide that level of stability even if it were sanctioned and basic services were somehow installed (likely at great expense). Additionally, tent cities lack security (someone can break into your "home" with a pair of scissors) and drive up policing costs, stigmatize their residents and thus make it more difficult for them to reenter mainstream society, and create all sorts of social proximity problems by clustering all the struggling people in one place where they have almost no chance of forming professional and social networks that could actually help them instead of holding them back.

Ugh, I'm just so frustrated when people who are nominally my co-ideologues on economic issues are so fucking dense on this issue. So I'm very pleased that Republican-dominated Utah (of all places!) has recently adopted the Housing First approach on such a wide scale. I'm hopeful that once we've got good data on the long-term benefits that even the most moralizing of conservatives will be persuaded by the cold hard cash savings to taxpayers.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:31 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Also, with fixed housing, you don't have violent and property crime migrating anywhere but where the police can currently focus their limited resources. A house isn't transient and doesn't exist in a vacuum — there is paperwork involved in owning property, and there are landlords, companies or property owners who can more easily be held legally accountable for patterns of repeated criminal behavior. Police can more easily protect people when the problem doesn't keep moving around from neighborhood to neighborhood.

I mean we're on the same side — apologies if I seem fighty. basically the reason why I wouldn't say what you've said here, though, is that it's best to keep the focus on helping homeless people rather than on mitigating threats (real or imagined) to other people from homeless people. From this perspective, the fact that police have a harder time messing with people in RVs is actually sort of a positive thing — this is because police are among the chief threats to the safety and lives of homeless people. Well-organized tent cities (like SHARE/WHEEL's Nickelsville was when I was living in Seattle) are better, though, because the tent city community can protect themselves (politically and physically) against police attacks and also against criminal activity against the community.

Keep in mind that homeless people are much more frequently the targets of criminal activity than the perpetrators of it. However, police presence is typically a negative for homeless people and their neighbors, because police are almost always more interested in busting homeless people for homelessness than they are in protecting homeless people and their neighbors against crime.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:33 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


And of course we should help people move out of tent cities and into housing. we just should also spare no expense in leveraging the extant infrastructure (social and physical) supplied by tent city communities, while we work to provide more opportunities for cost-free and cost-reduced fixed housing.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:38 PM on December 16, 2015


The trick with dorm-like micro apartments is going to be the fact that a lot of the people who need housing are a mess - addicted, mentally ill, physically ill, not good at sustaining human connections. This is one of the things that makes homeless people often hate shelters - the other homeless people.

Yeah, that's why I said spread 'em out over different buildings and parts of the city. Basically, offer incentives to developers to build micro-apartments that are affordable to the working class (which right there will relieve some of the homelessness problem) instead of $1000+/month designer pods with concierges for tech workers, then pay the rent on a small percentage in each development and in existing affordable housing developments to house the currently homeless.

Meanwhile, all the problems you're concerned with -- addiction, mental illness, physical illness, antisocial behaviors, etc. -- are things that are greatly exacerbated by homelessness. So even if it isn't possible to provide extensive additional support to everyone who needs it, just getting them off the streets into a safe stable home of their own will help tremendously. Plus, so far all the data coming out of the pilot Housing First projects that have been done has found, on average, a significant decrease in substance abuse and a significant increase in medication compliance and other health outcomes even when the only intervention is the addict or ill person now has a home.

So, yeah, do more if you want/can, but start with the bare minimum of housing before anything else. For many people -- even some of the ones who are currently total disasters while living on the street! -- that's all they need to get their shit together on their own. For the others, you now have more resources available to treat fewer people, so you might be able to actually afford the more comprehensive care that would be ideal.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:45 PM on December 16, 2015


And of course we should help people move out of tent cities and into housing. we just should also spare no expense in leveraging the extant infrastructure (social and physical) supplied by tent city communities, while we work to provide more opportunities for cost-free and cost-reduced fixed housing.

No, that's where I have to disagree. Attempting to make tent cities more livable is a waste of money, time, and political capital. It's a bandaid that lets people continue ignoring the root problem because now they've "done something." And temporary solutions have a habit of becoming permanent.

Take every resource you would have used to improve tent cities and throw it at getting people into real homes instead. There are more vacant housing units than there are homeless people, so it's really just a distribution issue. Meanwhile, give developers incentives to build more working-class housing, so that in the future fewer people become homeless in the first place and so it will be cheaper to pay to house those that do.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:51 PM on December 16, 2015


Meanwhile, all the problems you're concerned with -- addiction, mental illness, physical illness, antisocial behaviors, etc. -- are things that are greatly exacerbated by homelessness. So even if it isn't possible to provide extensive additional support to everyone who needs it, just getting them off the streets into a safe stable home of their own will help tremendously. Plus, so far all the data coming out of the pilot Housing First projects that have been done has found, on average, a significant decrease in substance abuse and a significant increase in medication compliance and other health outcomes even when the only intervention is the addict or ill person now has a home.

See, I believe this is true - not least because I've had several friends who were living on the street and found housing during the times that I knew them (just for the record, they stayed with me for part of the time and lived in tents/homeless encampments for part of the time. Both of them talked about how scary and dangerous things sometimes got, and talked about encounters with other people who were dangerous for various reasons). In a separate incident, though, I did live with two gravely mentally ill men who'd been in and out of homelessness, and it was really, really difficult, plus scary to the point where I ended up moving out. I felt terrible because I'd been de facto house-managing the place, and I did not think that they were up to keeping things going - but the situation really impeded my own ability to function. These were guys who needed, probably, daily visits from a supportive caseworker/volunteer/something, but I could not do that for them. They were fundamentally nice people and one of them was brilliant, but they were not doing too well.

I grasp the housing relieves mental illness and addiction and so on, and I'm absolutely in favor of housing everyone. I am a little worried that people who have serious issues are going to be dumped into housing, that housing will deteriorate and become scary and then the deterioration will be used as an argument against housing people.
posted by Frowner at 1:53 PM on December 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


Enabling market solutions through incentivization won't work unless the incentives come in the form of huge ongoing subsidies to landlords and developers — this is because in cities with scarce land in a country where wealth is concentrated, it's not anywhere near economically rational for private interests to provide decent working class housing. Instead of subsidizing market interests, we should be moving toward more high-quality state-built and/or state-managed housing, ideally with an eye toward driving down the profitability of landlordism and private-market real estate development, and with the eventual aim of squeezing the for-profit sector out of housing altogether.

But while this is happening people still need a place to live, and ideally a place to live that lets them network with other people to gain social capital and ultimately political influence — and ultimately, political influence is key to getting cities to actually fund housing first programs. Tent cities beat the hell out of scattered settlements for these purposes, and they're significantly safer than living rough by yourself.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:03 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


and yeah, most tent cities are scary fucking places, because the street is a scary fucking place. Nickelsville as I understand it is a bit of an exception — and I don't understand it all that well. I've heard really positive things about it, but I've also heard SHARE/WHEEL referred to as a cult.

I've known people who lived in the Seattle tent encampment called "the Jungle" (the one that was on Beacon Hill for a long time... I think every city has their own "the Jungle," right?), and basically the only positive thing they had to say about it was that it was better than homeless shelters.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:07 PM on December 16, 2015


It was always kind of sketchy (offers for drugs, prostitution, etc), but things got really ugly and dangerous last spring. Two monsters, offered me cash to have sex with my toddler. That was kind of the end of the line for me. I spent the last couple months we had in that house walking up and down our section of the trail, and calling the police with detailed reports of where illegal camping was happening ... Legalizing these camps isn't the right move, giving people fucking houses is.

The problem is that being homeless didn't make those two people into pedophiles, though the converse may be true. I'm sympathetic to your reaction, but that's a textbook example of NIMBYism. Pedophiles are going to prey on children wherever they are - even if we created housing for everyone that had been camping near there, they'd simply prey on the children of the formerly homeless living nearby. Going from living in a tent to a microhouse or apartment isn't going to cure them, which is something that the article mentioned a couple times - we've badly failed our mentally ill.

Similarly, people on the short end of the stick in our economy are always going to be surrounded by a cloud of "sketchy", because hustling drugs, prostitution, and petty crime are the easy ways to get involved with the underground economy. Until we can solve some of the bigger economic issues, no one is going to want that element of sketch coming into their neighborhood. And it's only going to get worse and more and more low skill jobs are automated out of existence.
posted by Candleman at 2:17 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


See, I believe this is true

You don't need to "believe" that it is true. It simply is true, full stop, as per every study I've ever seen on the topic: Getting the homeless off the street and into stable homes of their own leads to a significant average improvement in pretty much every problem associated with chronic homelessness. It's as close to a "fact" as we come in the social sciences.

My mouse is misbehaving in a way that makes looking things up and copy/pasting really difficult (anyone know why a Toshiba laptop trackpad would suddenly only function as a scroll wheel instead of a mouse unless I hold down the left mouse button while moving it???) or I would dump a bunch of evidence into this thread. Maybe someone else can find and link the various journal articles and nonprofit reports here?

In a separate incident, though, I did live with two gravely mentally ill men who'd been in and out of homelessness, and it was really, really difficult, plus scary to the point where I ended up moving out. I felt terrible because I'd been de facto house-managing the place, and I did not think that they were up to keeping things going - but the situation really impeded my own ability to function.

That's why I'm in favor of developing lots more dormlike micro-apartments so that everyone can be in their own little lockable home instead of just moving people into multi-bedroom houses as roommates. And yeah, while it might be really annoying when your next-door neighbor is screaming at voices only he can hear, there are many people who would find that to be an acceptable tradeoff for really cheap or free rent.

Even if some of the crazy neighbors are sometimes violent, on average they're certainly not going to be more violent than they were when they were living on the streets. The only thing that will change is their potential victims: instead of mostly victimizing their fellow homeless and/or mentally ill, they'll be attempting to victimize mostly working-class folk, students, struggling artists/musicians, etc.

Frankly, I see that shift as a net gain to society, as those "normal" people will generally be more capable of defending themselves, recovering from losses due to crime, and getting the police to actually help them. So unless you see their current victims as somehow morally less important than other people, I'd think that something that resulted in fewer crimes and those crimes being committed against less defenseless victims would be another no-brainer.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:28 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Enabling market solutions through incentivization won't work unless the incentives come in the form of huge ongoing subsidies to landlords and developers — this is because in cities with scarce land in a country where wealth is concentrated, it's not anywhere near economically rational for private interests to provide decent working class housing.

But what's currently "economically rational" has been greatly twisted by the constraints of current zoning laws. End height restrictions, minimum parking space requirements, and rules about the ratio of unrelated adults to full kitchens and it would suddenly become waaaaaaaaaay more profitable to build the type of housing I'm talking about.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:33 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


You don't need to "believe" that it is true. It simply is true, full stop, as per every study I've ever seen on the topic: Getting the homeless off the street and into stable homes of their own leads to a significant average improvement in pretty much every problem associated with chronic homelessness. It's as close to a "fact" as we come in the social sciences.


I feel like we're waaay, waaay at cross-purposes here and I'm not sure why. I have no doubt now, and never have had any doubt or expressed any doubt on this website that housing people improves health outcomes. I base my belief not only on reading but on personal experience. I'm not sure why we're arguing about this.

I'm also not sure why saying "here are some reasons that microhousing for people with serious mental illness would require staffing and support in order to avoid certain highly predictable problems - some of which I too have encountered" is either controversial or something we're arguing about. Especially because the point I'm trying to make is not "let's have less housing" but "let's have more housing and back it up with social services as needed".

Again, I am really confused about why we seem to be arguing.
posted by Frowner at 2:39 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, dormlike micro-apartments are all the rage these days anyway, right?"

SROs. They've nearly been zoned out of existence but they used to be much more of a thing - oddly enough, back before there were so very many homeless people.
posted by dilettante at 2:41 PM on December 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Especially because the point I'm trying to make is not "let's have less housing" but "let's have more housing and back it up with social services as needed".

And the point I'm trying to make is don't make the housing contingent on already having those social services in place. Don't leave someone languishing on the street just because you don't have the resources to micromanage their lives once they're off it.

"Housing with social services support" is a much more costly, complicated, and politically difficult goal than simply "housing." Spending too much time focusing on the former distracts from achieving the latter.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:47 PM on December 16, 2015


And I don't even disagree with you, so there we are.
posted by Frowner at 2:47 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yay!

They should just put us in charge the world, no? :)
posted by Jacqueline at 2:50 PM on December 16, 2015


Ok, so the Utah solution seems really promising. Admittedly, it may not scale, but I like the idea of offering people a place to live instead of just destroying their homes. It's cheaper to house people than to have them on the streets, although I wonder how those numbers go when they get to live in stable communities.

Tent cities are (as far as I can tell) as worse solution than one we also have. So keep using them, keep them safe and secure until you can get people into real homes. Hell, create a building with enough spaces for everyone to move in, so they can keep living together and keep the community.

This does not feel particularly far fetched. You need to pit lower taxes against people "freeloading." Lower taxes should win. Or maybe America does hate poor people less than it loves money.
posted by Hactar at 2:57 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Another advantage of changing zoning rules to allow more microapartments: just imagine how much less wildlife habitat we'd have to destroy to accommodate expanding populations if we had skyscrapers that could house up to 100,000 people per city block!

(Back of the envelope calculation: ~300x300 ft city blocks, ~150 stories, ~10x10 ft per microapartment = space for 135,000 microapartments. Round down to 100,000 to allow ample space for hallways, elevators, cafeterias, stores, clinics, etc. Put a community park on the roof and you're good to go.)
posted by Jacqueline at 3:24 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


> But what's currently "economically rational" has been greatly twisted by the constraints of current zoning laws. End height restrictions, minimum parking space requirements, and rules about the ratio of unrelated adults to full kitchens and it would suddenly become waaaaaaaaaay more profitable to build the type of housing I'm talking about.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:33 PM on December 16 [+] [!]


nope! It's okay, though — I used to think this too. However, under our current wealth distribution, what makes sense is to overbuild for the very richest, build some for the middle classes, and put the working classes in tenements. This allows the slumlords to extract maximum money, the middle-class housing developers to extract maximum money (as the middle classes will overpay out of terror of having to move into slum housing and thereby being marked as slum dwellers), and, well, the luxury market is the luxury market, and they can muster enough effective demand to soak up all the supply you can throw at them and more, no matter how much supply you can throw at them.

Basically the pattern of development you get when you unleash market forces in a materially unequal society is something like the pattern you got in early 20th century Manhattan: lots of truly dire, overpriced slum housing, some modest and extremely overpriced housing for the middle classes, and lots of fantastically overpriced palaces for the rich. It's an item of faith among libertarians (and, for that matter, among liberal urbanists) that the unleashed market is capable of providing reasonable housing for the masses, but in practice the only time the market really provides reasonable housing is when 1: the wealth distribution is relatively flat (as it was in the mid-20th century U.S.) and 2: oil is cheap, allowing for building on cheap plentiful distant land rather than expensive scarce close-in land.

(well, or 3: when the availability of ample public housing and/or widespread socially acceptable squatting provides downward pressure on market-rate rents.)

There's lots of sectors where the market method of allocation tends to produce terrible results: transportation infrastructure, utility infrastructure, security, health care. Housing is one of those sectors.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:28 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another advantage of changing zoning rules to allow more microapartments: just imagine how much less wildlife habitat we'd have to destroy to accommodate expanding populations if we had skyscrapers that could house up to 100,000 people per city block!

Hold on there Le Corbusier.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:34 PM on December 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


Agreed, I've seen this "all zoning is bad" meme gain traction in certain circles and it baffles me. All zoning is not bad; bad zoning is bad.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:34 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


>> Another advantage of changing zoning rules to allow more microapartments: just imagine how much less wildlife habitat we'd have to destroy to accommodate expanding populations if we had skyscrapers that could house up to 100,000 people per city block!

> Hold on there Le Corbusier.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:34 PM on December 16 [2 favorites −] [!]


To be fair there's a part of me that likes that the tradition of 1950s zam-pow rocketship libertarianism lives on, because despite its problems there's an innocent can-do enthusiasm to it that's missing from most contemporary political thinking. But on the other hand, I think something like China Miéville's critique of libertarian seasteading applies here — it's not bad to imagine a utopian mega-arcology, but it's weird to imagine such a dull utopian mega-arcology, and to pretend that utopian mega-arcologies will ever make economic sense for private developers.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:48 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Another advantage of changing zoning rules to allow more microapartments: just imagine how much less wildlife habitat we'd have to destroy to accommodate expanding populations if we had skyscrapers that could house up to 100,000 people per city block!

Uh, yea, the history of large scale public housing in the US is, not great. People in need of housing need to be integrated into the community, not segregated off into an arcology out of the less desirable districts of Mega City One.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:10 PM on December 16, 2015


I understand the difficulties, but I've often wished that there were 'sharehouses' like this near me.

“A 260-person 'Sharehouse'”Document 72 Hours, NHK, 17 March 2015
In 2013, one of Japan's largest "sharehouse" or shared-living apartment houses, opened in Tokyo. It can accommodate 260 people. Open to men, women and couples, it instantly reached full occupancy. There are aspiring artists, foreigners on short-term stays for work or study... people with all sorts of ambitions. In the evenings, in the common spaces, strangers lend each other a sympathetic ear. Parallel lives, intersecting lives: we encounter a variety in the course of 3 days spent getting to know the denizens of this remarkable establishment.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:18 PM on December 16, 2015


I live in a tent but not in a tent city. I've never seen a tent city live. The idea of living in one scares me. I feel much better sneaking into this one wooded area behind a parking lot with a neighborhood surrounding it than I would in a tent city. A few people have mentioned that one of the reasons many homeless people don't like staying in shelters is because of the other homeless people. Yep. People living in tents have often have a different set of problems than residents in shelters but many of them do have problems.

My fantasy (again, reflected by others here) is the free micro-apartments (each unit having a shower and microwave oven) spread throughout the city with some designated for victims of domestic violence, others for people with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, etc.

But that's part one. The next step is crucial. Some people do really just need a base from which they can build from. I've seen guys like that in the shelter I used to stay in. They run into hard times, have no support network (friends and family), but can and do work and just need a place to stay while they save up enough money to get their own place.

But some people have deeper problems. My fantasy is that each person will have a case manager whose sole job is to help that person pursue whatever it is that homeless person wants to pursue. Maybe it's tennis. Maybe learning how to sew. Maybe kicking that meth habit. Whatever. Help that person achieve something that restores their own sense of humanity, ie, not what society thinks makes for a fulfilling life (work 40+ hours a week, get married, have children, buy house in suburbs etc) but what actually brings fulfilment to that individual. Once that sense of humanity is restored then I'm positive the person will find ways to become part of society again. Once they get a taste of the "good life" and have a path to achieve it, they will (in many cases).

Obviously some folk have serious mental health problems that will probably always keep them on the fringes but most of the homeless people I deal with can be integrated into society but not via living in a horrible shelter and working day labor jobs.

Once you've become homeless (against your will as opposed to the survivalist who chooses the lifestyle) you will probably find yourself in such a hole that getting out seems almost impossible. Maybe it's massive debt and rubbish credit. Maybe a felony. Who knows, but it's rarely just fixing this one thing but needing to fix a dozen very difficult things and needing to fix all of them before you can even begin to think about getting off the streets. It's so daunting that most give up.

Personally I didn't think I'd even survive the fall into homelessness so I was not prepared for it at all. In spite of that I've managed to survive and my camp site would be the envy of homeless everywhere if I ever told anyone about it (Homeless 101: Don't ever ever ever under any circumstance ever tell anyone (homeless, homed, whatever) where you live. Just don't.) so I'm a little lucky in that way (until someone sees my coming/going and calls the cops ...) So while I'm at the bottom it's better than the cardboard box in the doorway of an unrented downtown storefront. But because I didn't expect to still be alive my way out of this hole is almost impossible.

I'm rambling now, and I don't really have much in the way of a solution. But giving money to charities that have high overhead expenses which money then trickles down to the homeless keeping them homeless would be better spent just getting homeless into real homes. Or so it seems. If safe and clean tent cities is the best we can do then go for it (actual restrooms with showers and fences around each tent for starters). But that's got to be a stop-gap solution until actual housing is found.
posted by bfootdav at 4:25 PM on December 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


It's an item of faith among libertarians (and, for that matter, among liberal urbanists) that the unleashed market is capable of providing reasonable housing for the masses, but in practice the only time the market really provides reasonable housing is when 1: the wealth distribution is relatively flat (as it was in the mid-20th century U.S.) and 2: oil is cheap, allowing for building on cheap plentiful distant land rather than expensive scarce close-in land.

Oil is only cheap because it is so heavily subsidized by the government in the form of defense spending etc., and that distant land is only cheap and plentiful because suburbanites never have to pay the full costs of the infrastructure that supports their neighborhoods. Additionally, both have horrific environmental externalities that we'll be paying for generations to come.

I do believe that the free market could handle housing just fine if and only if the subsidies that make suburbia appealing were eliminated and the externalities internalized. But if that proves to be politically and/or economically infeasible, then IMO a counter-subsidy to encourage much denser cities would also be acceptable. We need to build up, not out.

Hold on there Le Corbusier.

I just really want to live in an arcology, dammit!

Agreed, I've seen this "all zoning is bad" meme gain traction in certain circles and it baffles me. All zoning is not bad; bad zoning is bad.

Is anyone here arguing "all zoning is bad"? I'm certainly not. I'm arguing that zoning rules that prevent smaller, cheaper, denser housing units are bad. Specifically, I would do away with building height restrictions, parking space requirements, and limits on the number of unrelated adults per full kitchen.

Basically, if it's good enough for college kids, then it should be good enough for city-dwelling adults, too.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:30 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I defer to bfootdav on everything related to living in a tent and will stop running my mouth when all I really know comes secondhand from SHARE/WHEEL.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:13 PM on December 16, 2015


> Uh, yea, the history of large scale public housing in the US is, not great. People in need of housing need to be integrated into the community, not segregated off into an arcology out of the less desirable districts of Mega City One.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:10 PM on December 16 [+] [!]


I'm going to do the predictable and say that Pruitt-Igoe was less about public housing and more about white supremacy. I agree with you that sub-market-rate public housing is best when it's placed throughout municipalities rather than concentrated in a few mega-developments. Even so, the reason why the public housing megadevelopments sucked wasn't the megadevelopment form itself, but instead the systematic denial of resources and agency to the Black people living in those megadevelopments.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:22 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've given some thought to the ideal tent city.

Bfootdav's Ideal Tent City:

1. Each tent area needs to be surrounded by a chain link fence with a good lock so that only the residents of that tent (and management) can get in.

2. Each tent needs to be on a platform at least 6 inches off the ground.

3. Each tent needs to be tall enough to stand in and big enough to keep stuff (at least a 4-person tent).

4. Each tent needs electricity (heat, etc).

5. Each tent needs running water and a drain.

6. Each tent needs a tarp (or several). All of this depends on the seasons and how extreme the weather is and such do adjust as necessary.
Having a bathroom for each tent is too much, so:

7. Public restrooms (permanent structures and not porta-potties (unless they are somehow super fancy) with private showers.

How to keep all that clean? Haven't the foggiest.

8. Barbecue pits in each fenced in area. With overhang (for inclement weather).

9. Wifi.

10. Free laundry facilities.

There's probably more but as you can see this is becoming rather elaborate and expensive. Living in a tent is not the same as a weekend camping trip. The needs are greater. Keeping your stuff from mildewing is a pain. Feeling safe is difficult.

How do you deal with noise problems? The people I know who live in tents (ex sum) live by themselves so they only have to worry about the noise they and their neighborhood critters make. (By the way, do y'all know that fawns make a sound like a sheep bleating but without the vibrato? A family of deer invaded my site the other morning and I got to hear it first hand.) Without walls the noise problem is going to be intense. How do you enforce sound curfews when dealing with all these loner independent types? It's almost like your tent city needs to be seriously spread out and have wooden fences instead of the chain link ones I mentioned above.

Ha! Here's a beautiful bit of homeless hilarity, the library is about to close so I have to sign off for the night! See y'all tomorrow!
posted by bfootdav at 5:50 PM on December 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Another advantage of changing zoning rules to allow more microapartments: just imagine how much less wildlife habitat we'd have to destroy to accommodate expanding populations if we had skyscrapers that could house up to 100,000 people per city block!

That sounds a lot like the (now demolished) Kowloon Walled City in terms of density.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:55 PM on December 16, 2015


I'm going to politely ignore the claim that RVs are problematic because sometimes sex workers run businesses from them — really, we should help sex workers in our neighborhoods organize for better working conditions rather than thinking of them as a problem to be gotten rid of.

Yea, i'm with you on this.

Several people i know have lived in RVs. I almost moved in to my bus for a while, more than once. The number one issue my friend i talked to about it a lot(and came down several times to help with mechanical/etc issues) was the lack of security, and the lack of any ability to call the cops or anything because you were breaking the law too.

Many times i've seen a really dangerous situation on the fringes of society and legality, it's been exacerbated by the inability of people involved to call for help without fear of just ending up with their lives fucked over or in handcuffs themselves. You see this all the time, with situations like teenagers doing drugs who don't call 911 when a friend is overdosing.

There's nothing inherently dangerous about homeless camps, or groups of RVs on old industrial/disused blocks in corners of town, or whatever.

What IS inherently dangerous is that there are predators, violent assholes, and mentally ill people mixed in who will victimize others, or especially with the last group be at a way higher chance of being victimized because there's no one they can call for help and no way to speak out.

Seattle, which got some goodmouthing here it didn't really deserve, is not golden on this either. What we need is decriminalization of public camping and RV parking in certain areas. What we got was "NO PARKING 1-5am TOW AWAY ZONE" signs and draconian enforcement in all but the most fringey areas.

I can't find the link, but there's a couple grassroots organizations trying to help out people living in vehicles here. They'll pay off fines so they don't get towed, provide stuff like batteries and basic necessities, etc. I found this program, but it's not what i was thinking of and served a very small number of people. It was also structured around getting people out of RVs as quickly as possible.

Where my friend had hers parked, there was probably something like 20+ of them just on that one street. Helping out 50 people in a year could potentially be a couple of blocks of a couple of the hotspot areas for it.

It also really, really doesn't help that the defacto OK zones for camping have become deep in the industrial district, under highways near by, etc. The tent city program tries to place the camp near services and such and acknowledges the importance therein... but then they crack down on everywhere else even in places like gasworks near the lake where it was nothing but marine industrial shops across from the big RV encampment.

I don't even know where i'm going with this now, but i've just watched this city go "this is a HUGE problem we need to solve NOW! support them we're doing stuff" out of one side of its mouth and "fuck these fucking people i don't want them anywhere near me" with the other.
posted by emptythought at 6:05 PM on December 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


That sounds a lot like the (now demolished) Kowloon Walled City in terms of density.

Nah, that was apparently only 33,000 people spread out over half-a-dozen acres. I want 100,000 within a single city block with almost everything you might need within the same building so you could conceivably spend literally years without needing to leave the building.

I just really don't like going outside, I think.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:24 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Almost exactly seven years ago, we had a Tent Cities FPP. It is mind boggling to me that this has been going on, in the scale in which it is happening, for almost a decade now, and there's not a single national politician talking about it, much less working towards any solutions.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:35 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is mind boggling to me that this has been going on, in the scale in which it is happening, for almost a decade now, and there's not a single national politician talking about it, much less working towards any solutions.

It feels like it is getting more and more visible. The encampments in the small forgotten empty places around cities (like on freeway right of ways, below embankments) keep increasing, and I am also seeing small encampments in surprisingly rural and isolated places. They are often on undevelopable floodplains and river banks, but of course in those locations they are then at risk of flooding (as well as raising questions of potential contamination depending on how they are handling waste).

It goes along with the other ways that poverty and inequality are becoming more visible as they become more and more common.

I agree with people who are saying that we will see a return of SROs and boarding houses, first informally and then through reversing the zoning prohibitions that got rid of them in the twentieth century. And, pushed by fancier developments like the apodments and those tiny micro apartments in NYC, there is going to be a relaxation of building codes that were written to get rid of tenements and slums.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:54 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I live at Gas Works, and my family business is on Airport Way, so I've got a front-row seat to what un-organized encampments look like too.

Before the summers of 2014 and 2015, there were a handful of guys living in RVs that they could keep running, and they'd move every few days. They didn't have piles of garbage and shopping carts and bicycles around them. They didn't stay up all night smoking meth and prowling the neighborhood, and even the guys in the school buses blocking parking next to Ivars were largely tolerated.

By my estimation, the warm winter of 2014 and SPD's choice to not ticket, tow, or boot vehicles with somebody living in them (let alone investigate petty crime) made it a lot, lot worse.

I don't pretend to know what's the right solution, but I can tell you that those encampments aren't harmless to the neighborhood. Until those RVs were cleared out, I was dealing with nightly prowls of my marina, both from the RV residents (say hi to Mike and Ghost and Tweak !) and their customers who made up a continuous all-night flow of drugs and stolen goods along the Burke-Gilman Trail. That's not liberal hand-wringing, it's eyewitness testimony.

I'm in favor of getting people into housing, and into treatment, but I'm absolutely against allowing them to continue gathering in unregulated, disorganized encampments where they can simply continue their lifestyles because drugs are cheap, food is free, and the cops don't hassle you.
posted by Kakkerlak at 8:31 PM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm in favor of getting people into housing, and into treatment, but I'm absolutely against allowing them to continue gathering in unregulated, disorganized encampments where they can simply continue their lifestyles because drugs are cheap, food is free, and the cops don't hassle you.

Perhaps it is about mistaking compassion for needing to letting the non-Amazon parts of Seattle devolve to a third-world hellhole, because the rest of the city is busy reinventing itself and we can fix these problems later.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:08 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I'm in favor of getting people into housing, and into treatment, but I'm absolutely against allowing them to continue gathering in unregulated, disorganized encampments where they can simply continue their lifestyles because drugs are cheap, food is free, and the cops don't hassle you.

Whereas I am in favor of a world where drugs are cheap, food is free, and the cops don't hassle anyone, where everyone can continue the lifestyle of their choice, so long as it doesn't involve anything destructive like wage labor, landlordism, or market speculation. and where all are watched over by machines of loving grace, yadda yadda, amen.

That said: stigmatizing homeless people for drug use is not helpful to anyone. Life is hard when you're not in Rat Park. People cope in different ways. Regardless of how people in encampments cope, solutions to the problems produced by encampments have to be designed in a way that acknowledges that the residents of encampments (and not their housed neighbors) are the most important people involved.

I'm not saying this because I'm some super-sheltered immature weirdo — like, I'm immature, point taken, and I'm a weirdo, but, well, I live in West Oakland. There's a bunch of people living in largish encampments under freeway underpasses within walking distance of my place. There's a lot of people living in real rough conditions on the streetcorners around me who survive by panhandling and (sometimes) by working as lookouts. I think these people are the most important people in the city. I wish the city treated them that way instead of making their lives even harder.

And, well, also, I know your neighborhood pretty well — I grew up in north Seattle, lived in Wallingford a couple of times, ran on that stretch of the Burke-Gilman back when I was running around Lake Union, and am still up in Seattle on a regular basis. And please, please acknowledge that in the broader scheme of things 1: your neighborhood is hella nice, encampment or no encampment, and 2: the lives of the people you think you should be allowed to keep from gathering are more important than the quality of your (very cute, very streetcar-suburb) neighborhood, and 3: siccing the police on homeless people, especially homeless people wrapped up in the drug trade, is not how you go about helping them.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:53 PM on December 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


this is all making me feel terribly nostalgic, cause I lived there right after college. I wonder if the good people of Wallingford thought I was "prowling" when I'd sneak out at night to smoke a joint while walking down to gasworks to look at the skyline...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:10 AM on December 17, 2015


This was a poster in 1920s Seattle. This stuff is old. (Taken from this blog post)

When it comes to RVs, it's funny how cities are more than happy to offer free space to anyone who wants to store their vehicle-- as long as they don't need to use that vehicle to actually, y'know, sleep in. It is very much a case of "those who have, are given more, and those who have not get nothing".
posted by alexei at 12:50 AM on December 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I remember small encampments from my childhood, mostly along creek and river floodplains in the farming area where I grew up. 2 or 3 tents or tarps, some old cars, and a few people cooking around a fire. But we also had lots and lots of trailer parks, many of them with conditions no better than unauthorized encampments--trailer homes with leaky roofs and walls, with malfunctioning or nonfunctioning plumbing and electricity, with drugs and crime and despair.

The first massive encampments I ever saw were in Mississippi and Louisiana after Katrina. It may be illegal in most places to do it on your own, but FEMA set people up in tents and campers on parking lots, in parks, on school grounds. The tents went away fairly quickly, but the camper villages lasted for years as did the folks living in campers in front of their houses. They generally had functioning utilities, but still, folks were still living in campers that were not designed to be lived in for years.

The big change now seems to be that these encampments are increasingly large, increasingly urban, not rural, and increasingly visible. And they're intruding on the lives of those of us who think of ourselves as nice white middle class people and prefer not to think about the lives of the poor at all.

I spend a lot of time around the urban homeless of Atlanta now. I don't know what I used to think, but now I am completely persuaded that every human being by nature of being a human being deserves a safe place to sleep, bathe, and use a toilet. Shelters are a stop gap (and here at least not open year round), and tent cities are currently not safe and generally don't have access to plumbing. I've become persuaded that Housing First has to be our priority.

In urban and rural areas, there will always be people who simply don't want to come inside. But, to me, we are denying others' humanity if we don't first and foremost offer them the opportunity to do so.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:04 AM on December 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Look, there are individuals, groups and ideas committed to solutions about homelessness. No two concrete jungles are alike though; every city has unique problems to solve regarding this issue.
What's frightening to me is when real attempts are made and then squashed by our own. One step forward, two steps back. That's what happened in San Diego, when a nonprofit tried to provide a miniature house for a homeless man. (It was placed among the tents that the upper crust citizens of southern California walk by and try to ignore on their way to work downtown) Hours later, police officers arrested the homeless man and seized the tiny house.
posted by evcourtexaminer at 1:46 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


You can I are going to disagree very strongly on these matters, You Can't Tip A Buick.

Children are the most important people in a school, but we don't let them write the schedule. Passengers are the most important people on a ship, but we don't let them man the helm.

Even if I agreed that the residents in the RV encampment held preferential moral high ground by merit of their destitution or desperation, I refuse to agree that we should organize, fund, maintain, and police our neighborhood to suit their desires.
posted by Kakkerlak at 1:55 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Children are the most important people in a school, but we don't let them write the schedule. Passengers are the most important people on a ship, but we don't let them man the helm.

I think the crux of our difference in opinion shows up in the rhetoric deployed here. I can't speak directly about your neighbors, but my neighbors who live in tents are all adults. Moreover, they're adults with a set of very difficult skills — as Barefoot Dave documented above, living without formal shelter requires training and expertise, and if you don't gain and employ that expertise, you're dead. By setting up an analogy between your adult neighbors and children, you are saying that your adult neighbors are like children in that they lack the skills required to run their own lives — and willfully ignoring their demonstrable expertise in living in difficult situations.

I haven't yet ever had to live outdoors in a city, but even so one thing that I've learned in my life is that anyone who simultaneously thinks of you as an incompetent child and also as a problem to be gotten rid of is not your friend and should not be trusted.

Your other analogy is also indicative of your idea that your neighbors aren't qualified to know what's best for them — you present them as deskilled passengers, who must stay off the bridge so that the skilled officers can go about their business. They are not deskilled cruise ship passengers, though; they are adults in difficult situations that take intelligence and skill to navigate, intelligence and skill of types that by dint of your social position you have never had to develop.

As the inheritor of a business, you are almost certainly very skilled at running the hustles associated with that business — knowing who and how to hire and fire, knowing how to deal with suppliers, knowing how to network in professional associations, knowing how to get permits from the city, knowing how to follow leads for sales, knowing what rules can be bent and what rules can be broken, and so forth. If your parents were competent, you've likely been learning the tricks of your family's hustle since before you were even old enough to realize it. You have expertise, in this particular way. There is, I've seen, among the small businessholder class a tendency to indulge in something like engineer's disease — to think that because you have expertise in one particular hustle this means that you have or could pick up general knowledge of all hustles, thus qualifying you to run the lives of the neighbors you don't like. There is empirical data showing in broad terms that the most efficient way to improve the lives of poor people is to give us money and let us decide what to do with it; paternalistic schemes where money is given in exchange for following the guidance of wealthier people tend not to work, because wealthier people understand what they need, and understand how to run their own hustles, but they don't actually know what we need or how to run our affairs. (also, these schemes tend to get hijacked by the rich for their own interests; recall how the restrictions on what can be bought with WIC funds are less driven by concern for the health of mothers, and more by what sectors of agriculture need subsidies.

Even if I agreed that the residents in the RV encampment held preferential moral high ground by merit of their destitution or desperation, I refuse to agree that we should organize, fund, maintain, and police our neighborhood to suit their desires.

They are more important to us than you are because they need more help than you do. You're fine; we know that because you have so few problems that you have time to get angry about people carrying stolen goods on foot up and down the Burke-Gilman.

> Even if I agreed that the residents in the RV encampment held preferential moral high ground by merit of their destitution or desperation, I refuse to agree that we should organize, fund, maintain, and police our neighborhood to suit their desires.

I'm not a Christian — I find Christian metaphysics unhelpful and most Christian institutions terribly offputting. But I'm a big fan of Christian ethics. One common thread you'll find in the Abrahamic religions (and I'll defer to actual followers and scholars of those religions on this if it seems like I'm getting this wrong, just like I'll defer to bfootdav on how to live in a tent in a city and to you on the technical and social details of managing whatever your inherited business is), ahem, one common thread you'll find in the Abrahamic religions is the central importance of neighborliness and hospitality to travelers in their ethical systems. We are to welcome travelers, we're to open our hearts and our homes to them, and if we do this we are good people. As I've heard it told there is good practical reasons that these desert religions placed neighborliness and hospitality at the centers of their moral codes; sometimes people living in deserts have to travel, and if you are traveling in a desert, you must rely on the people whose lands you travel through sharing their resources and shelter with you. If they don't, no matter how well prepared you are, you could very easily die.

There is a well-known story about unneighborliness and lack of hospitality in Genesis; in this story, God destroys two entire cities — Sodom and Gomorrah — for being unneighborly to travelers.

Your mind seems fairly fixed on this matter, but please, as an exercise, try sometimes to consider your neighbors as adults who know how to run their lives rather than as children, and also try to consider them as neighbors instead of just problems. Seattle is their city as much as it is yours — despite the deep flaws of our electoral democracy, we are fortunate enough to live in a country where an inherited business and a boat moored on Lake Union doesn't win you extra votes — and the "we should not have to put up with them living as they please in our neighborhoods" rhetoric elides the fact that it is their neighborhood and their city as much as it is yours. Even if they just got here.

There are practical reasons for running this mental exercise in neighborliness. Cities that treat all their adult residents as adults are on the whole better places for everyone, cities that run off of respect for everyone work better than cities that run off of disgust, and the more you practice respect for your neighbors the better you'll get at it and the better the people around you will get at it.

There are also, of course, moral reasons: being a grownup means respecting your fellow grownups and their skills.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:35 PM on December 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


Some of these Seattle comments sound a little too much like my apoplectic NIMBY Nextdoor neighbors. One RV involved in drugs and sex work makes all RVs and/or homeless people somehow involved. And the comment is cloaked in concern for the sex workers/drug users but, really, come on now, you just don't want "those" people so close to your house. Then when you call the cops and they tow that person's home because you're so paranoid, you just ruined someone's life again. Not saying tent cities or RV "homelessness" is a genuine solution. Just some compassion would be nice. Homelessness won't end overnight and you might have to put up with an unsightly scene or some extra garbage.

(This is more of a rant about how I discovered how horrible my neighbors were via Nextdoor. Sorry.)
posted by altersego at 11:20 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


oh my god Nextdoor. Why did I ever look at Nextdoor?

if I could Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind out of my head everything I learned about my white neighbors from looking at Nextdoor, I would do it without hesitation.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:16 PM on December 18, 2015


One RV involved in drugs and sex work makes all RVs and/or homeless people somehow involved.

More than one, but whatevs, I just live here.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:32 AM on December 19, 2015


I am sorry that you have to be around people who are in desperate situations. That must be very hard for you. Not everyone can take seeing things like that in their neighborhood. Stay strong.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I will stay strong despite the obvious sincerity, but I will also believe that everyone's neighborhood — including Mayor Murray's neighborhood — deserves to go without mobile drug labs and chemical waste dumps. Even if meth cooks are all living tragic, desperate lives that deserve our unreserved and thoughtless compassion. Truly.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:00 PM on December 19, 2015 [3 favorites]




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