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What Are Tent Cities?

Temporary communities or makeshift shelters, often due to homelessness, are known as tent cities
Temporary communities or makeshift shelters, often due to homelessness, are known as tent cities

You’ve definitely noticed those tent cities springing up in cities all over the place, right? It’s where homeless people set up camp and make a little community for themselves.

The harsh reality is that they have nowhere else to go.

So these makeshift outdoor spots are their only option to throw up some shelter and band together with others in the same unfortunate situation.

Where Are the Big Tent Cities?

So you’re probably wondering how homelessness got so bad in major cities out West, right?

Well, while there are many answers, one thing that for sure contributed is the crazy high housing costs — that’s likely what kicked this into overdrive.

Let’s take a look at some of the most infamous tent cities out there:

Los Angeles

There is a significant issue with homeless encampments all over LA
There is a significant issue with homeless encampments all over LA

You don’t have to live there to know about the massive homeless scene all over LA. That infamous Skid Row is like the poster child for tent cities—just rows and rows of tents lining the streets.

San Francisco

Like other cities, San Francisco has experienced issues with homeless people
Like other cities, San Francisco has experienced issues with homeless people

In SF, homeless camps started popping up everywhere—under highways, in parks, vacant lots, you name it. Some of the biggest are right around City Hall and the main library.

Sad to say, hopelessness has gotten real out there.

Seattle

Seattle’s got these tent cities cropping up in all the green areas and woods, like The Jungle under I-5, where whole communities are forming.

Portland

In Portland they have this one organized spot called Dignity Village that’s been around since 2000 and where dozens of people live in tents and tiny homes.

As we’ve just seen, tent cities are unfortunately all over the place and are becoming more common.

Why Do Tent Cities Exist?

Many people don't have homes and need a place to stay: enter tent cities
Many people don’t have homes and need a place to stay: enter tent cities

Tent cities usually just pop up naturally when homeless people try to band together for some safety and community by camping out somewhere.

And they’re becoming common!

There’s a bunch of reasons why:

  • Not enough low-income units or shelter beds to go around

  • Shelters have all these rules, bugs, and curfews that repel people

  • Job losses and poverty pushing more people onto the streets

  • They get forced out of one camp and need to find a new spot to set up their tents

  • Tents offer more privacy and a sense of ownership compared to shelters

Tent cities are a temporary shelter option for people who can’t get into affordable housing or homeless shelters.

Public Issues With Tent Cities

Public issues with tent cities can include concerns about sanitation, safety, and the surrounding community
Public issues with tent cities can include concerns about sanitation, safety, and the surrounding community

It’s sad to see tent camps where homeless people are trying to survive every day.

But isn’t it more alarming to see how they create public issues, impacting both their lives and their surroundings?

These tent cities definitely stir up some public concerns over health, safety, and how public spaces are being used:

  • Reports of increased crime, drugs, and violence

  • Health risks from lack of clean water and proper sanitation

  • Fire hazards from people cooking inside their tents

  • Costing cities a fortune for constant cleanups and police presence

  • Considered eyesores taking up public parks and sidewalks

  • Straining city resources by providing toilets, trash pickup, etc.

  • Nearby properties losing value, and businesses losing customers

  • Neighbors constantly complaining about noise, trash, and petty crimes

Too many to mention, but that’s the reality behind this shelter system.

How Do Cities Respond?

City government respond to tent cities' health and safety issues in different ways
City government respond to tent cities’ health and safety issues in different ways

By now it’s clear that these big tent cities can create health and safety issues, both for the people living in the tent city and for the surrounding neighborhoods.

So we can also understand why most city officials aren’t too keen on them sticking around.

Here are some of their typical responses:

  • Cops sweep in to dismantle camps and chase everyone off

  • Fencing off areas to contain the tents away from businesses and homes

  • Setting up designated “safe sleeping” zones where tents are allowed

  • Opening temporary sanctioned tent sites or safe parking zones

  • Passing laws making public camping illegal

  • Providing basic necessities like porta-potties and trash service

  • Trying to connect campers with shelters and social services

By working together with residents and organizations, cities can create sustainable solutions that support those in need and improve overall urban livability.

Creative Solutions for the Future

These creative solutions can help address homeless encampment and rebuild their lives
These creative solutions can help address homeless encampment and rebuild their lives

If you turn on the TV or check social media on your phone, you’re immediately aware that homelessness and crazy high costs of living just keep on rising in so many areas…

…So its safe to say that tent cities aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

That’s why local governments and even homeless advocates are brainstorming ideas to try and make these encampments a bit more livable:

  • Changing zoning laws to allow temporary tent housing on vacant lands

  • Creating designated “campsite” areas with basic amenities like showers and bathrooms

  • Making it easier to legally build little tiny home villages on empty lots

  • Streamlining permits so that nonprofits can set up organized, supported tent communities

  • Investing more money into developing actually affordable housing options

  • Providing more temporary shelters and expanding emergency shelter access

  • Hiring homeless residents to help maintain and clean up camp areas

  • Offering storage so residents don’t lose all their stuff when camps get cleared out

  • Increasing access to resources to help people transition into permanent housing

Final Thoughts

As the pressure mounts on officials to “do something” about these ever-expanding tent cities, we need to address the root issues driving up homelessness in the first place.

Only then will we be able to transition these tent cities into more sustainable, dignified living situations for the homeless, who literally have no other options right now.

It’s a harsh reality and things have to change.