There is a refusal today in America to recognize a reality which has been kept out of the public view and which has, in some places, been criminalized in various ways. And that is the simple fact that housing, the most basic of human rights, has been priced out of the reach of many people.
A couple days ago, the website Zero Hedge published some very interesting information that pretty much destroys the myths that have led to our blissful self-satisfaction and obscure the fact that too many Americans have been living on credit and enriching only the mortgage bankers and landlords who don’t give a damn about them. According to a report issued by the Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, more than half of all renters are spending at least 30% of their incomes on housing and a quarter of all renter households pay more than half their income for rent (so much for the “25% rule”). The median US renter household in 2013 earned $2,725 per month ($32,700 yearly) and spent $900 per month on housing. In other words, American consumers are caught in a state of near-permanent spending depression because almost nothing is left over after one’s basic living expenses are met. Homeownership has plunged to 1993 levels, and asking rent amounts have never been higher. The burden of this reality falls heavily on Millennials who are also burdened with over $1 trillion in student debt.
This situation is not sustainable, but people who try to think radically outside the box are often penalized.
Readers of this blog will recall a post about a Kentucky “off-the-grid” family, which has had its ten children kidnapped from them by that state’s department of children’s services (CHFS). An “investigation” of flimsy accusations against the parents is ongoing, but I am sure a big part of CHFS’s determination to permanently remove the children from their parents is that the family had been living in a structure that was exposed to the elements, does not have indoor plumbing or running water, and otherwise does not conform to the “American Dream.”
It is estimated that there are over 100 tent communities in the US to cope with our nation’s rising tide of homelessness, but only eight are actually considered legal. Formed as an alternative to shelters and street-living, these makeshift communities are often set up off of highways, under bridges, and in the woods. All that I know of are a mish-mosh of the cheap camping tents which are so typical in America. Few reflect any of the sophisticated planning which is possible.
Some have “mayors” who determine the rules of the camp and who can and can’t join, others are a free-for-all. Some are overflowing with trash, old food, human waste, and drug paraphernalia, while others are relatively clean and drug-free. But for their residents, almost all of them are just one step away from jail.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) documented media accounts of tent cities between 2008 and 2013, and says the encampments are on the rise. “There have been increasing reports of homeless encampments emerging in communities across the country, primarily in urban and suburban areas and spanning states as diverse as Hawaii, Alaska, California, and Connecticut,” the organization’s study says.
Tent cities are most common in areas where shelter space is scarce or housing unaffordable. Yet, many people say they choose to live in a tent even when shelter is an option. And they do so for one big reason: freedom.
As these encampments continue to spread, public officials are responding in different ways. The NLCHP found ten tent cities weren’t officially recognized, but the city or county wasn’t doing anything to get rid of them. The vast majority of encampments, however, have been shut down and occupants have been evicted.
Instead of evicting people from tent cities, the NLCHP says the root of the issue—unaffordable housing—needs to be addressed. “Encampments and tent cities have emerged as a means of self-help for homeless individuals to survive and find shelter, safety and a sense of community,” the report states. “Ultimately, the solution to the proliferation of encampments across the United States is the provision of affordable housing.”
Ms. Ross reported that in January 2010 there were 700,000 individuals in the US who were homeless. She reported that the share of families who lack a place to sleep continued the rapid expansion that began during the recession, and that between 2007 and 2010, the number of homeless families grew by 20%. The nation’s elevated unemployment rate and the large number of foreclosures have increased demand just as municipal and state budget problems have led to a reduction in services available to the poor and homeless.
Some cities have begun to regulate tent cities issuing temporary permits that allow churches or other organizations to host the homeless for few months. In January, Seattle WA mayor Ed Murray proposed that Seattle make it easier for nonprofits to establish three new tent cities to deal with part of an estimated 2,300 people living outdoors or in cars in Seattle, but his proposal met with opposition from those who said such support would give Seattle a bad name. In March, however, the City Council voted to authorize and regulate up to three new homeless encampments, for as many as 100 people each.
In most other cities, developers, business district boosters, and city councils have clashed with the homeless, encouraging police to issue more frequent tickets for violations such as sleeping in public, loitering, littering, or public urination and defecation.
Homelessness isn’t my issue, much as I decry that it exists. But I have to listen to the constant complaints of my son Henry that his rent relentlessly goes up while his wages do not in a corresponding amount. And then there is the fact that we will have to provide sleeping quarters whenever parricides and others show up at Estrella Vista. It has long been my plan that tents can provide a cost-effective way to expand and contract the sleeping capacity of the property as needed.
Now I’m not suggesting using cheap, uncomfortable tents that are only suited to a short camping outing. The German scouting movement has developed distinctive black cotton tents which are particularly well-suited to this country and offer unparalleled comfort and durability for users.
I have one such tent called a Kohte. It is basically a Northern European teepee, originally developed in Lapland, and it is a marvel of construction that comfortably sleeps up to five occupants. It breaks up into five panels, with the idea that each man in a five-man patrol packs one panel with him to a location where the tent is assembled in about 20 minutes. The Kohte has a chimney opening at the top so a space heater or fire can be lighted within the tent for warmth in cold weather. The tent’s design makes it resistant to high winds and side-flaps facilitate cooling in hot weather. If it were erected on a low platform, it would be off the desert floor and less attractive to desert creatures and creepy-crawlies. Foam rubber padding could even be added beneath the tent’s groundcloth to make it that much more comfortable for the tent’s occupants. A more elaborate cousin, the Jurte (the German version of a Yurt and pictured above), could be purchased at a later date.
You are probably saying, “But the tent is black. Doesn’t this absorb more heat in the desert environment?” Surprisingly not. It actually creates a deeper shade than a tent of any other color. If you have ever been in a white tent on the desert, you will know that the sunlight permitted in absolutely bakes the interior. Black tents are actually 10° cooler than the ambient temperature. On the desert, shade equals relative coolness.
I have come to believe that, in the right environment, living in or close to nature is no hardship at all. I am sure homeless people in New Jersey or Minnesota have it very hard, but I was not scandalized by descriptions of the Kentucky family’s home life. Abe Lincoln grew up in a modest Kentucky log cabin, and that is not what killed him. You don’t have to live in a McMansion to survive or to be happy and satisfied with life.
What you do need is an opportunity to live your life with dignity. Everyone needs this, whether they shelter themselves under conventional construction or in a cotton tent. What the data from Zero Hedge suggests is that too many people live in penury or under a mountain of debt and live like slaves. There’s nothing dignified about slavery. Freedom is the greatest source of dignity.
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