05/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tent Cities: National Coalition For The Homeless Begins New Study Of Encampments

The National Coalition for the Homeless is undertaking a new project to document the tent city phenomenon across America.

"Tent cities are American's de facto waiting room for affordable and accessible housing," said coalition director Neil Donovan in a statement. "The idea of someone living in a tent (or other encampment) in this country says little about the decisions made by those who dwell within and so much more about our nation's inability to adequately respond to those in need."

Donovan told HuffPost that the coalition originally planned to do a national report, but there were so many encampments when they began their research on the West Coast that they decided to tell the story in pieces.

"We started by doing on-the-ground research where we actually went to tent cities. And when we got there, they said there's one down the road, and then another," he said. "We just started working our way down the coast and realized we just needed to get the report out. The next report is going to be Florida and up the East Coast."

Last Spring, the coalition's report notes, the tent city phenomenon gained national attention after the Oprah Winfrey show featured a report about a growing tent city along the American River in Sacramento, Calif. But even though the media jumped on the idea that the recession was sparking a new wave of tent city living, a closer look reveals that there's nothing new about tent cities in America.

The report provides details on 11 encampments on the upper West Coast, such as the population and regulatory status (many tent cities are sanctioned by local governments).

"Encampments range in structure, size and formality," the report says. "Larger more formal tent cites are often named and better known, but don't represent the majority of tent city structures or residents, found with smaller populations and dimensions. This report and future national reports rely greatly on information provided from the 'field.' We request that readers of this report provide NCH with information about tent cities in their local communities."

Click here for a PDF of the coalition's first report, titled "Tent Cities in America: A Pacific Coast Report." A tent city near you? Tell the coalition about it, and CC HuffPost too!

Tent cities can be anywhere. This reporter once documented the daily rhythms of a one-man tent city on a freeway in Washington, D.C.