By John Hines
Down on their luck and out of dollars the homeless are flocking to tent cities creating America’s new real estate boom, evicted from their homes by foreclosure and job losses.
Hooverville era tent cities are popping up all over America, many in places that have never witnessed an explosion of this sort before. With foreclosures topping 4-million properties nationwide and rising unemployment, many of the residents have no other choice but to live in tents under highway overpasses and empty dirt lots without running water or other necessities.
The scale of the crisis is mushrooming, according to advocacy groups, who are asking government leaders to intervene and aid those caught in the web of homelessness. The encampments are growing in size and are reported in at least 20 cities throughout the country, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Fresno, Chicago, Nashville, Phoenix, Miami, St. Petersburg, Seattle, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Providence, Rhode Island.
In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is ordering that the shanty tent city along the banks of the South Fork of the American River in Sacramento be closed and moved to the county fairgrounds after it was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show. Schwarzenegger, whose state has the highest foreclosure rate in the country, is having residents moved to the fairgrounds for safer confines.
Many of the residents include foreclosure victims, but there are also a high number of alcoholics, drug addicts and migrant workers thrown out of work by the drop in home construction. Housing prices keep dropping in the Golden state, which is losing population as a result of its decaying economy. Home values in many areas of Southern California are already down as much as 70% from the markets peak.
In Fresno, John Garcia makes the best of it living in a tent made for two with his wife and two children. “We were kicked out of our home three months ago,” said Garcia. “We thought we had the American dream buying a beautiful new 3-bedroom home and then I lost my job and the mortgage went up. My wife went to work but didn’t make enough to keep up with the payments.”
Garcia, his wife and kids lived in their home 14 months without paying a mortgage before finally being evicted by sheriff’s deputies when their home was foreclosed. With slim hope of landing a new job soon and little money, Garcia and his family are caught between the cracks. “My wife has gone to the church and asked for help, but they say there are too many other people like us.”
In Fresno alone, a city of more than a half a million residents with one of the highest populations of Mexicans in the state, more than 1,000 residents live in one encampment. Locals call it “Little Tijuana.” Many leave during the day to hide from authorities, who are trying to deal with the problem in Fresno and other areas.
In California’s Central Valley, an estimated 6,000 residents are homeless due to foreclosure. The surging problem has grown from a few hundred in the last few months alone as banks more aggressively moved in to take over properties that were foreclosed.
Smaller communities seem to have smaller tent cities like Nashville, Tennessee, which grew in population during the real estate boom. Now a tent city of more than 400 residents is centered in a community outside of town on land that was scheduled for new home construction.
In Providence, some 50 residents sleep in tents not far from the city’s downtown courthouse. Rhode Island has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Many have been kicked out of their homes as a result of landlords losing property to foreclosure.