Homeless encampments

In theory, it might be supposed that homeless encampments are built by down-on-their-luck people trying to makeshift the best they can for themselves. That sounds compassionate. And yet the reality is that these either attract or generate so many problems that traditionally society has been unable to tolerate them. Why does what might be an improvised self-help short-term solution to a problem turn into a sordid cesspool that amplifies the problems of the homeless?

It is certainly true that society doesn’t tolerate homeless encampments. Is it necessarily true that society is justified in this intolerance? Let’s establish that, first.

Instead of “in theory”, you might want to do some research and actually discover who lives in these homeless encampments or otherwise living without address. You’ll find some who have genuine mental illness or are “homeless by choice” (usually running away from a domestic violence situation or other abuse), but you’ll also find a lot of people who were employed and even had mortgages a few years ago but are now homeless and jobless because of bad credit, the 2007-8 housing crisis, opioid addiction, and other socioeconomic problems that society as a whole has elected to neglect. The reason these encampments get ‘bad’ so quickly is both because they don’t have any infrastructure (trash, food scraps, and human waste are deposited wherever) and because they are preyed upon by criminals stealing what little they have and selling drugs to those desperate for escape. They are truly a terrible environment for both the people who live in them and the houses and businesses that have to endure them.

Having been homeless (albeit briefly and never without a car or some other shelter) I can say that it is a frustrating, anxiety-making, and most of all a terminally boring existence that nobody wants to experience. The “short-term” solution is to provide encampments that have services, are policed (or are self-policing), and are a step toward stable employment and residence. How to do that is another question to which I don’t think there is a simple, blanket answer but it does mean giving people help and making a place for them to re-enter society.

Or we can just have homeless camps wherever and then shovel them up with bulldozers and garbage trucks whenever the neighborhood gets fed up and starts making life hell for the municipality in charge. But it isn’t like these homeless people have somewhere else to go.


That reminds me of the compassionate camp in The Grapes Of Wrath.

Who wants a homeless encampment directly next door to where they live? If you do please speak up.

I would be fine with a group of small or tiny homes which have plumbing and electricity, where people have access to public transportation, job training, medical care including rehab, which is safe for the residents, clean and well-run. That’s the kind of place most homeless people would like to live. They don’t want to live in homeless encampments any more than you do.

Many people who are “permanently” homeless are mentally ill. I’m sure they want to not only suffer mental illness but also live in danger and squalor., right? Taking good care of the mentally ill is a job our society mainly just fails at.

I heard the end of an argument: apparently one guy had an issue with where a homeless beggar was sleeping (NB: not an encampment!) It was in front of a kiosk on a street with heavy pedestrian traffic. I don’t know if it was the guy’s kiosk, but in any case it is not open at night. Anyway, the other guy was yelling at him: not only is this man so down on his luck he has to sleep in the fucking street, you have a problem with that, and the further gall to give him shit? And where exactly is he supposed to go?

Now a bone fide homeless encampment is in the category of a refugee camp, except potentially even worse: if it is not built properly, has no infrastructure, not run properly and preyed upon by criminal gangs, of course it is a disaster that “society” does not want any more than it loves refugee camps, but it is just the same thing on a larger scale—it isn’t like the residents have somewhere else to go.

Let’s put it another way; the United States is the richest country on Earth, with such overwhelming wealth that private individuals can launch themselves or their shitty electric cars into space on a lark, but we can’t solve the problem of a few million people who are homeless, most for circumstances beyond their control?

It beggers logic that we can’t—or more properly, won’t—even attempt to solve this problem here while we have no issue spending trillions of dollars to invade other countries…to render people there homeless. Chew on that chestnut.


Good point, Stranger, and it illustrates the greater issue that our government is completely unwilling and/or unable to address ANY issues plaguing the citizens of this country who aren’t billionaires. Make no mistake, the unhoused crisis is something that needs to be addressed at the federal level, otherwise you just get a permanent wave of unhoused people camping from city to city and neighborhood to neighborhood and nothing ever gets FIXED.

Right here, right now is the first time in about three years that I DON’T have at least one homeless camp within throwing distance of my house but no worries, they’ll be circling back around shortly I’m sure. My city has repeatedly voted voluntary tax increases to address the issue of the homeless camps that have turned this city into a huge mess–city council just announced they’re allocating 255 MILLION for the year, which works out to nearly 50K per unhoused person. You’d think that would be plenty to work with, and yet so far we’ve been throwing money at the problem and A) we keep getting fucking stupid results like one of the council members drafting up a recommendation that the one and only organization capable of properly handling that rather staggering sum just so happens, purely by coincidence mind you, to be helmed by the councilperson’s spouse and B) we’re being inundated by service resistant homeless from all over the country because the word is out that the Left Coast is the place where you can do and cook all the meth you want, steal anything not nailed down and sell it on Craigslist, perpetrate massive amounts of crime against each other and the neighborhood around the camp, shit and dump trash literally everywhere and have zero consequences for it.

Until a cohesive federal response to the issue is codified and put into place it’s going to continue to fall to people like me–barely in the middle class by the skin of my teeth and one health emergency away from losing everything myself–to somehow deal with the problems inherent in allowing a bunch of meth head criminals to run rampant over an entire city, including the more vulnerable members of their own camps. I can’t afford to have anything else stolen from me and I’m tired of waking most nights in a panic because the local camp is burning plastic trash again and it makes my subconscious convinced my house is on fire. I can’t even walk my dogs along the bike trail that was a huge reason why I bought this house because I can’t afford the fucking vet bills when they get used needles or glass stuck in their paws.

Somebody needs to do something about this mess and I am goddamned sick and tired of being volunteered for the job by people who make ten times what I do.

Is that why society won’t tolerate homeless encampments? Because of the problems the encampments “attract or generate”?

Sorry, I’m just not convinced that there might not be a common cause. Eg: society will neither tolerate homeless encampments, nor will it seek better alternatives to such encampments, nor will it devote appropriate resources to deal with the problems often associated with homelessness, because the homeless and the sort of people who are liable to end up homeless are marginalized by society.

$50K per, and people still want government to solve this problem? Are we going to keep giving government more money to solve this problem without holding government accountable for achieving performance standards?

Government efficiency is a contradiction in terms!

Well just who the hell else has standing, resources and a coast to coast authority to deal with the systemic problem of homelessness then? Do, please, enlighten us as to what magical white knight we should be looking for to fix the problem.

You’re missing the point.

It’s likely the federal government that should fix the problem, but if fed gov’t is dramatically underperforming should we give more money? Should we reward such behavior? Certainly not.

In both posts I had to stop short of calling the fed gov’t “them”, because we are the government. “We the people”, and all that.

But citizens and tax payers should not reward dysfunctional performance by pouring more money into it.

Fed gov’t has to perform better. The homeless are suffering and need a helping hand.

That’s like asking whether or not it’s a good idea to bail out the sinking ship out of some principled stand against shoddy boatbuilders. That’s where my city is now and we’re footing the bill trying to just keep our heads above water–no, none of us like paying three times over for the problems caused by a group comprising less than 1% of the population of the city but we’ve empirical evidence that it can indeed get much, much worse.

Well you won’t buy a boat from the same builder I bet.

Look we’ve got to fix this homeless problem, but we’ve got to fix inept, inefficient government too.

Just so long as you don’t use one as an excuse to ignore the other.

50K per person? I don’t know where you live, but where I live that’s more than enough to pay the rent on a small apartment and just park the person there, plus provide social services on top of that.

Of course, public housing - which is what we’re talking about - has its own problems. One of the biggest was warehousing poor people apart from everyone else and/or imposing rules that no one else had to follow in their own home. You don’t pile all those people into one high rise, that’s just a vertical camp. You distribute them throughout an area rather than concentrating them. But then you have people saying “I don’t want those damn dirty apes poor people next door to me”. So you don’t do that, but then people wind up with a homeless camp next to them anyway.

Around here I’m sure we get “traditional” homeless people who are mentally ill/addicted/dysfunctional but most of the homeless I know personally actually do have jobs, they just can’t afford the price of a home of their own. Then there’s the subset of sexual offenders who, apparently, aren’t allowed to live anywhere and wind up in tents under freeway overpasses.

Actually affordable housing might be a start, although it’s not the whole of the problem. But no one wants to build anything less than a McMansion these days.

As an American who relocated to Europe and was shocked to discover the degree to which government can be managed well and doesn’t have to be stupid, corrupt, and chronically shitty, I would ask you to mitigate your generalization somewhat.

Here, the approach to dealing with the homeless is not to punish or even just manage their homelessness but to help them become not homeless. Imagine that.

But God forbid the residents of the shining city on the hill would ever be willing to admit that their democracy is not the perfected envy of the world or that lessons can be gleaned by studying other countries that do things better than them.