More people across the country are now at risk of homelessness than ever. Unemployment, disability, housing cost burden, drug addiction and rising cost of living are some of the many current indicators of this problem. As this problem widens so does the rise of illegal camps across major American cities and subsequent legal measures to control their growth. Particularly, Sacramento’s homeless crisis has become increasingly visible over the past one year ever since the city mayor directed the police to prohibit illegal tents. While city officials are within their mandate to control the growth of legal camps, they should also consider legalizing them as a short term solution to homelessness and its associated problems.
Legal camps, unlike their illegal counterparts and homeless shelters, bring order and accountability to informal housing. Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), does not resist from addressing such limitations. For one, legal camps, as asserted by Foscarinis, allow for continued access to social services including healthcare, security, water, and clothing, where required. In essence, she implied that cities should use social systems to care for the homeless as opposed to the justice system (Ellis). Such sentiments show that legal camps help combat homeless and poverty related social issues. Under legal camps, for instance, in the presence of such amenities, homeless individuals can save for the future and solve causes of their homelessness. Also, their reasonable grouping would ensure that the city government accounts for each and every individual seen as homeless.
Second, unlike legal tents, illegal camping and homeless shelter systems do not adequately serve the needs of homeless individuals. Hunter, Linden-Retek, and Shebaya of the NLCHP suggest that one of the common recurrent issues is the lack of available spaces for enough space for illegal camps as well as homeless shelters. Instead, they have to stay separately to make use of homeless shelter services. Also, illegal camping only offers overnight accommodation services. This limitation means that they have to break their camp from time to time. The constant movement complicates their attempt to seek employment in addition to finding solutions for their unemployment statuses.
Third, homeless persons living in illegal camps would express safety concerns relating to their utilization of unauthorized spaces within the city. As seen by the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board, besides the loss of property, most homeless individuals who set up illegal camps find themselves, from time to time, in trouble with the law. Eventually, those in need of new camping space often wander into the city’s crime hotspots. Such individuals may become victims of various kinds of crime including drug abuse, rape, murder, and mugging. Thus, the move to establish sites for legal camps will be rewarded with security, security creates confidence, confidence livens the eventual access to formal housing, and negligence ruins the reputation which calculated effort has helped build.
Fourth, an attempt to illegalize camps will only increase the rate of illegal camps because the city does not provide enough housing resources to address the homelessness problem. The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board views Sacramento as a city that lacks a dedicated team to ensure affordable housing for city residents. Given the current surge in unemployment and population inflows, the amount of affordable housing within the city continues to fall below par. In any case, Hunter, Linden-Retek, and Shebaya note that it would be harder to convince the state government to appoint a dedicated team of officials to look into providing affordable housing for city residents. Strategies for affordable housing are necessary for any city because there will always be residents at the bottom end of the lower socio-economic spectrum. Currently, however, due to limited building space and resources, it is hard to construct houses that can take care of their needs. As a result, most of them find their way onto the streets and in a struggle for limited shelters and camps.
Furthermore, homeless individuals appear to prefer living in tents as opposed to limited homeless shelters because they offer them a sense of normalcy and independence they may lack upon an induction onto the streets. Hunter, Linden-Retek, and Shebaya suggest that many would assert that living in tents would appear normal and autonomous for older individuals who do not need control on what to eat or when to go to bed, and how to use the bathroom. Ideally, legal camps mean that individuals can, comfortably, move with their entire families and establish a temporary housing in a designated area. They would want to feel independent even if it meant spending their nights in tents.
Finally, homeless folk also appreciate the importance of order and visibility to public officials. The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board implied that before encampment because a trend, homelessness across American cities was almost an invisible issue. Legal encampments, however, make homelessness visible to lawmakers. The effect has played a significant role in establishing an environment for dialogue and finding ways to achieve appropriate solutions. Just the other day, city officials, as explained by the Sacramento Bee, city officials considered appointing a subcommittee that would look into finding short-term and long-term solutions to this issue. Soon, through city-sanctioned camps, they will be asking not what the city can do for them; they will be asking what they can do for the city.
In conclusion, homeless tent camps occur because of the absence of viable alternatives to housing and a violation of the individual fight to housing. Ideally, closing down legal camps will only encourage the construction of illegal camps. Notably, however, tents should not be alternatives for long-term housing or investment in satisfactory solutions. Therefore, given the current insufficient availability of housing resources, the city should work in tandem with residents to prioritize legal camps as part of the voice required to transform the city’s image. That is, rather than perceiving them as a threat to public safety; city residents should view legal camps as a communal gathering of homeless individuals who have an opportunity to rejoin formal housing.
The Sacramento Bee
May 8, 2016
Ref: Do not jeopardize legal homeless camps with illegal ones
Hi. This letter is in response and support of the named subject. In my opinion, the city’s visible increase in illegal tents comes from the mayor’s decision to encourage the criminalization of homeless camps. As a result of this legislation, the police are, without leniency enforcing the rules across town. I must say that the current anti-camping rules have never been more inhumane because they force a constant movement of homeless individuals from place to place without direction. The trend is increasingly upsetting many crucial stakeholders, including city residents and business owners. It should be the politician’s problem that they are not doing enough to maintain their city’s image. One move towards this realization concerns not asking what the does for them; it concerns asking what they can do for the city. More like it, the movement resulting from camp criminalization has encouraged a flock of illegal tents inside parks and busy sidewalks.
Ellis, Blake. "'Illegal to be homeless' in growing number of cities." 16 July 2014. CNN Money. Web. 7 May 2016. <http://money.cnn.com/2014/07/16/pf/illegal-homeless/>.
Hunter, Julie, et al. Welcome Home: The Rise of Tent Cities in the United States. Report . Washington, DC: The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 2014. PDF.
The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board. "Don’t jeopardize legal homeless camp with an illegal one." 26 April 2016. The Sacramento Bee. Web. 7 May 2016. <http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article74067382.html>.