Homeless Camp: A Novel Solution?

In Modesto, CA, they are moving a homeless camp from a nearby community park to a city-sponsored camp, organized with uniform tents, portable bathrooms, showers, trash collection, and electricity for charging devices. The new location has been prepared for them under an overpass to protect the camp from rain. There is also a perimeter fence and a security presence, as well as outreach provided by a community program organization, to help people transition from the camp. The people at the camp are allowed to come and go as they wish, and they seem grateful to have some support from the city.

This is being advertised as a temporary solution to that city’s homeless issue, but it seems like a very humane way to deal with the issue of homeless camps getting established in city parks and other areas where there tends to be abrasion with residents. I will be interested to see how this works out over time. What do you think? Is this a good approach? Would this work in your city?

Modesto Bee article.
Another article.

I totally support this. Any one who’s been to Oakland or San Francisco in the past few years can see that this is a fine alternative to the chaos, garbage, angst, hopelessness, that gathers under every available overpass. This problem is not going away. A clear-eyed and compassionate response, like this one, could help a lot.

As long as that ‘novel’ doesn’t turn out to be Grapes of Wrath…

I could see it working in parts of the country where the climate is temperate year-round. Here the tents would need to be heated somehow, because even in a large part of the sunny South temps below freezing in the winter and some homeless people freeze every year. They would also need to have at least a fan for the summer when temps are 95F+, the humidity is over 80% and the air is stagnant. Heat stroke is a real threat. That’s a pretty good load of electricity to run to X number of tents, certainly a lot more than some low voltage lines to charge some phones. I can’t see that being a temporary solution.

My town has had one for about 8 years. It seems to help some people.



There are many good physical solutions to homelessness, including lots of creative small prefab housing designed for that purpose (a favorite project of architecture students). But there are other difficulties, even setting aside the disgust and contempt the housed have for the unhoused and hence lack of political will.

There are very different categories of homelessness that each need separate solutions and in some categories physical separation. There are women, often with children and/or pregnant, fleeing domestic abuse, who have no livelihood. There are people who have just gotten temporarily unlucky and run out of friends’ couches to crash on while figuring out how to get back on their feet. And then there are the “permanently” homeless, which are typically the only ones the public sees – almost always with some mental disability, mental illness, addiction, or all three.

I’d think they could get good quality cold weather sleeping bags donated without much trouble, and run water to the camp and you have the heat issue taken care of.

Ok, so they’ve taken care of shelter, but that doesn’t really solve the issue of these guys wandering around, or how they get food, etc…

Based on what I’ve seen, homelessness isn’t so much a strict lack of a permanent place to sleep, but more of an inability to function in society. That guy sleeping in the train station elevator when it’s cold isn’t homeless in the sense that he’s going to wake up and go to work, and come back and crash in the elevator because he doesn’t have a place to stay. He’s more than likely mentally ill and/or an addict and is just going to wander around/chill out all day until it’s time to go back into the elevator to try and keep warm.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m not sure that things like this are more than treating symptoms rather than the disease itself.

Reagan emptied and closed the mental hospitals which were warehousing the people who have become the visible homeless. Drugs became the much cheaper way to address to mental illness.

Obviously, neither move was exactly a solution.

From my reading, the most effective ways to combat homelessness is to provide them with homes (usually a small apartment, from what I’ve read). This plan sounds like it’s a lot better than nothing, even if it doesn’t appear to go so far.

I’m not expert, but I would argue that there are more types than this, and that there are lots of the “permanent” homeless who don’t have serious mental or drug problems. Then there are the opportunists, who might flock to a city with a program like that, or one with free housing units. In San Francisco they have taken steps towards sorting out these different groups for most effective solutions, however building of housing always lags behind need.

When I read the OP the first thing I thought of is, how do the homeless people there feel about this solution? If they don’t like it, they won’t use it. One of the types of homeless seems to be people who rebel against any regimentation or limitations, and who will trade comfort for what they perceive as freedom.

I was in a homeless shelter last year, and I learned a lot about homeless people. While most of the people in the shelter were merely down on their luck and needed help getting back on their feet, a minority of them simply could not follow the basic rules of the shelter (and, by extension, society).

There were also lots of benches on the homeless shelter grounds and by the river where it was. I asked about them, and was told that some homeless people preferred to sleep on them, and more had been put up for that reason. Curious, I went outside early one morning, and saw people sleeping on them, their possessions at that side.

I think it’s a case of treating the symptoms, while we’re working on a cure. Better than no treatment at all.

I am in favor of these sorts of encampments. We have a big homeless population in Sacramento, and it would help if they actually had a place they could go besides the very few shelters. Especially if the encampments allowed families to stay together. Many shelters segregate men and women. Also, many do not allow pets.

I think one thing mentioned in one of the articles is that the city is not allowed to evict homeless from public parks if they have no alternatives available. By organizing the camp, it gives the city the ability to evict people living in the city’s parks, making those spaces more attractive to the city residents. To me, that is a positive thing. I don’t think evicting people from parks without giving them some place to go solves anything - they just move to another park and the process starts over.

I agree with the comments about “sorting” people based on their situation. Some are not going to enter any organized camp, but those that will are probably the ones that are more likely to be able to transition from being homeless. Seems to me like the organized camp, while not a total solution, is a step in the right direction. At least for those that need, and want, help.

Example of one in Fresno, CA. It has been around for quite a while, its basically little backyard storage sheds made into simple tiny houses with some communal restroom, shower and cooking facilities.

The idea of tents makes me uneasy but maybe they could be okay in a California winter.

Three are two ideas I’ve seen that I like better: one is a community of tiny houses and the other is much more weather resistant temporary housing built out of shipping containers.

In San Antonio, what the city did is centralized all the charities/agencies in town into one huge “one stop” resource center called the Haven for Hope https://www.havenforhope.org/.

Here a person can chose to be admitted into the building (if there is room) with a lot of rules and services or they can chose to stay outside in the secure courtyard with less services. They have a drug treatment, job training, apartments off site, and other services. Their website says that they coordinate with 184 partners.

For better or for worse, the city is very strict about helping the homeless in places other than at Haven for Hope. For example, If I were to go with my church right now and set up a place to get sandwiches and blankets at an overpass downtown, a police officer would come and tell me to stop and call Haven for Hope and see if I could set up in the Courtyard. Occasionally you see charitable people complaining on the local news that they can’t help the homeless directly the way that they want to.