THE BLOG

Tent Slums Spring Up in America

04/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Concentrations of homeless people are nothing new in America, but recent BBC and Los Angeles Times reports depict a rising trend of shanty slums, such as a "city" of newly homeless people living in tents near the Ontario airport in Los Angeles.

If you recall your Steinbeck, the residents of the 20c Hoovervilles were largely tenant farmers thrown off their farms by the owners, who in turn tried mechanized farming to bring down costs and break even. These displaced farmers migrated West where they became agricultural day laborers and settled into shanty camps.

The California tent slum depicted in the BBC report is quite different, because they are not migrant workers, so much as locals who have lost their homes. It is hard to tell if the newly dispossessed are all the victims of the subprime market. More likely, the tent slum population is a mix of new and old homelessness -- perhaps with a few migrant workers in the mix.

(video credit: BBC)

I do not know if there is a technical point at which a tent city becomes a slum -- a boundary of some sort that gets crossed in terms of population density or length of time in existence or total acreage. But the Los Angeles Times reports that the police are handing out wrist bands to make sure that only locals take up residence in the tent camp by the airport. Non locals have to get out. Passing out armbands to make sure only locals get into the camp has to be crossing a boundary of some kind. And it is not a good one to cross.

Whatever the actual demographics, the images and the stories are heartbreaking. If ever there was a reason to let go of market orthodoxy, and to re-embrace the American spirit of making things better by the most pragmatic means possible -- this is it. Make it work better, period. No ideology; no grand theories about freedom from government; just come together to help people before we lose a generation to this mounting economic tragedy.

Crossposted from Frameshop)

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