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Tent cities update

June 15 2012
More than 5,000 Americans now live in squalid, filthy, make-shift camps


They stand as a shameful blot on the landscape of modern-day America. Squalid, filthy, make-shift camps which are now home to more than 5,000 people across one of the richest and supposedly most developed countries in the world. Reminiscent of the shantytowns of the Great Depression, tent cities are the bleak reality of America’s poverty crisis, which has left around 10 per cent of the nation - 31 million - unemployed, and with a shocking 47 million now living below the poverty line.

Desperate families made homeless and jobless in the economic downturn have banded together and camps have sprung up in 60 cities across states including Florida, Washington, Michigan, Seattle, Texas, New Jersey and California - the state with the highest number of tent cities. The camps vary in size and levels of organisation, but one of the largest is Pinellas Hope, in Florida, which has 300 residents.

But instead of finding long-term solutions to homelessness, authorities have been increasingly dealing with the camps by simply moving to shut them down. Over the last month alone, two camps are being threatened with closure after the government of Denver, in Colorado voted to make all camps illegal and in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, permission was given to clear a camp to make way for a warehouse.

John Haacke, 46, a former computer network specialist for IBM, is a resident of the 23-acre tent city camp in Bucks County. He said: “I have nowhere else to go. I get $200 a month from welfare, I’m looking for a job and I’m living within my means. “I can’t find any place to rent for that kind of money. Nobody wants you - you became a misfit.”

Another resident, William Yates, 23, has lived in the camp for four years after growing up in foster homes. He said: “I am looking for work. Anything that pays me.” Meanwhile in Denver, the city council voted to approve a controversial homeless camping ban in a move that opponents believe would criminalise homelessness. Councillor Paul Lopez, who is against the measure, said: “I see a conflict between the powerful in this city and the powerless.

“This isn’t an attack on folks who have businesses here in Colorado. They do a lot for the homeless. For me it is deeper than that. I didn’t choose to be here to defend the most powerful. I am here to defend the people who don’t have the power.”