No joy in Hooverville

There doesn't seem to be any rush to bailout these tent city tenants and find them decent but affordable accomodation. There were no golden parachutes for these folk.

Economy-US: No Joy in HoovervilleBy Heike BarkawitzInter Press ServiceOctober 17, 2008New York - With a massive spike in the number of foreclosures and evictionsover the past two years, communities throughout the U.S. have witnessed thesprouting of tent cities -- many of them home to once middle-class citizensfallen victim to the economic downturn.Encampments have formed in or near large urban areas including Reno, LosAngeles, Chattanooga, Columbus, St. Petersburg, Seattle and Portland."[Starting] about four years ago, there has been an outbreak of tent citiespopping up across the country. Today, we observe a slow but steady increasein homeless people," Michael Stoops, acting executive director of theNational Coalition for the Homeless (NCFTH), told IPS.According to a report by NCFTH, almost 61 percent of local and statehomeless coalitions say that they have seen a growth in homelessness sincethe foreclosure crisis -- now at 10,000 homes per week -- began in 2007.The phenomenon is similar to the social upheavals of the Great Depression ofthe 1930s -- an era frequently referenced these days -- when "Hooverville"ad-hoc shanty towns, some as big as 15,000 people, were erected around thecountry, named after the president at the time, Herbert Hoover.Scott, a resident of the tent city in Los Angeles, told a televisionreporter, "I had one of those escalating, finance-charge, balloon-thingsthat steps up every year and the payment just got too much so that Icouldn't afford it anymore. I tried to work with the bank and they workedwith me, gave me some extra time, but it's just getting too big. So theyforeclosed."Many residents of tent cities share Scott's fate. One woman told BBC thatshe used to live in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. When her husbandfell ill, it became impossible to make ends meet."We have a lot of grandkids, too. They used to always come over and stay.They don't come here anymore, I don't want them to come here. We go thereand see them at their house," she said. She and her husband now live in amobile home at a camp.Most tent cities have a community-spirit and are self-regulated, saidStoops, who has visited many of the encampments. "In most tent cities, thereare certain rules -- like for instance no drugs, no alcohol and noviolence," he told IPS.He and his organization supported the formation of tent cities. "[They] areof course not the solution, but necessary until adequate shelters andhousing are found," he added."The tent city in St. Petersburg, Florida, is even supported by thegovernment and some local, non-profit organisations provide support for tentcities across the country," Stoops said.Jeremy Rosen, executive director of the National Policy and Advocacy Councilon Homelessness (NPACH), expected a mild growth in the number of tent citiesin the future due to the weak economy. "On the other hand, I suspect we'llsee a definite rise in homelessness," he told IPS.According to a document published by NPACH, the U.S. Department of Housingand Urban Development's (HUD) definition of homelessness "does not includechildren and families who have lost their homes but are temporarily stayingin motels or with other people because other shelter is not available orappropriate."These families have often lost their homes due to an event like eviction,foreclosure or a family crisis, but cannot find available and appropriateshelter."They become the 'hidden homeless', moving around from place to place --sleeping in cars, on couches, sometimes in shelters, sometimes with friendsand sometimes with family. Unfortunately, our country chooses to deny thisreality and doesn't define many of these people as homeless," Rosen toldIPS.There are an estimated 600,000 children and youths who are consideredhomeless by other agencies, but not by HUD. "More than 60 percent of thehomeless students identified by public schools are ineligible for HUDHomeless Assistance," the NPACH's report states."During the last seven years, we have seen homelessness increase. This isdue to, for example, hurricanes or the unofficial economic recession with aforeclosure crisis," Stoops told IPS. "A month ago, over 900,000 homes wereforeclosed and some of the people concerned will wind up homeless."While "there exists more [government] sympathy for banks and people on WallStreet", he wryly added that "the capitalist society will allow even thosepeople to wind up homeless."In Chicago, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has taken unusual action andannounced last week that he was suspending all foreclosure evictions."The move comes as a result of the growing number of evictions that involverenters, most of whom are dutifully paying their rent every month, only tolater learn their landlord has fallen behind on mortgage payments and thebuilding has gone into foreclosure," Spokesman Steve Patterson told IPS."These mortgage companies only see pieces of paper, not people, and don'tcare who's in the building. They simply want their money and don't care whogets hurt along the way," Dart said in an interview.Dart wants mortgage companies to be forced to provide sufficient informationto the Sheriff's Office in order to conduct an eviction.According to a press release by the Cook County Sheriff's Office,foreclosure filings have steadily climbed in Cook County since 1999. In justtwo years, the number of foreclosure evictions has almost tripled.The data firm RealtyTrac recently published a report stating thatforeclosures were at an unparalleled high nationally, filings were up nearly100 percent from a year ago and officials estimate that approximately half amillion people could lose their homes as adjustable mortgage rates rise overthe next two years. Many of those affected might eventually end up homeless,seeking help in a tent city or elsewhere.As there are not nearly enough shelter beds for all the homeless people inthe U.S., Stoops appealed for government compassion, saying that "every cityshould have one park or another space where homeless people are allowed toerect their tents.""It is hard for homeless people to set up a homeless campsite because copscome and make them move on. The most recent count from the government, whichis from 2005, says that 44 percent of the nation's homeless areunsheltered," he said.(END/2008)


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