Does camping hurt homeless people?

The Sacramento Bee reported that some Sacramento leaders are touring tent cities in Seattle. One is a skeptic.

[H]e said there aren’t enough data to determine whether tent cities are effective at connecting homeless individuals with services and permanent housing, or whether they are merely “as some people say, a form of baby-sitting or corralling.”

“There’s just no evidence yet that these are solutions, that they produce any outcomes,” Hansen said. “It sounds good on the surface, but it may not be effective and could make things worse for the very people we’re trying to help.

Should emegency housing funds be used only for “Housing First” supportive, permanent housing developments, like Salt Lake City, which claims to have effectively ended “chronic homelessness”?

Or is Housing First just another name for real estate developer welfare that diverts emergency resources needed to keep camps of unhoused people safe?

The cost differential between permanent supported housing and temporary supported facilities is such that it isn’t a choice that needs to be made.

You can have both and the choice he’s trying to force doesn’t make sense. Transitional facilities as opposed to what? Driving around finding homeless people, picking them up and taking them to a permanent unit?

If homelessness is such that you’re going to have tent cities regardless, then supported tented facilities will definitely favour connection to services over illegal encampments.


In the Ballard neighborhood a few miles away, five tiny homes and 16 tents provide shelter for about 25 residents at a camp called Nickelsville. The camp is on Market Street, the main thoroughfare of a once working-class neighborhood that is seeing an influx of trendy coffee shops, British pubs, cafes and town houses selling for $800,000.

This is just down the road from me. It’s on an old brownfield site that wasn’t being used, and I’m glad it’s there. I think they rotate the location around the city on an annual basis. People need somewhere to live. It’s not really on the main thoroughfare though, it’s past the centre. Sadly and unsurprisingly there’s some pretty unpleasant NIMBYism in this neighbourhood about those camps. Nickelsville is a sarcastic name taken from a previous mayor with a poor record regarding the homeless population.

There’s an RV camp opening up nearby too - IIRC, because a lot of Ballard is zoned as industrial space, people can park there indefinitely, so there’s quite a large homeless population here, so the city is opening up a lot that was the site of an old restaurant to get the vans off the street.

(and that ‘British’ pub is shite. But there are lots of good bars).


I think you’re really highlighting a central question here. Focusing on “chronic homelessness” as an exclusive option increases the risk that criminalizing homelessness will displace the true emergency and transitional housing options.

It speaks well of how humane the Ballard community is. Creating a safe place for people where they can be offered help drives down risks of violence.

It’s maybe counterintuitive, since violence against unsheltered people is too often unreported.


Some people don’t want to be helped. It may be hard to understand, but they really prefer being homeless. Tent cities are great for them, and they can pick up and move when they want to.

I suppose it is similar to living the life of a gypsy or running away to join a travelling circus.

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Tent cities undoubtedly suck balls at getting people reintegrated into society, but in a society that takes no pains to solve the issue of homelessness they are a better solution than simple, rootless vagrancy. If people are encamped then services can find them, links can be introduced and people can build support networks amongst themselves. The fact is that society is generally pretty hostile to homeless people even when individuals within that society aren’t, because of NIMBYism and other easy-option policies that reduce the cosmetic impact of homelessness - so the idea of organised, connected and collected homeless camps is terrifying to local government - because as is demonstrated reasonably often, once these organised communities emerge and find a voice, it becomes much more difficult to summon the dehumanisation necessary to disperse them.


Or being mentally ill to a degree that you can’t manage a steady environment.

I’m lucky; I can’t go out much, but I’m relatively okay when I keep to myself. But it wouldn’t take a lot to flip things to the point where I was in permanent flight mode.


Mental health trauma can inspire symptomatic behaviors that are rational to the traumatized person but appear unconventional or irrational to others.

For example, teens traumatized by violence in their homes may “run away” and reject offers of help that feel unsafe.

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Thats literally what they did in Medicine Hat!

city staff found housing for one man, but he insisted on leaving to sleep under cars. Day after day, they’d search him out and take him back to his new home…“They did it 75 times, but they had the patience and they didn’t give up on him and, eventually, he ended up staying in the house,”

I found this part the most interesting:

it costs about $20,000 a year to house someone. If they’re on the street, it can cost up to $100,000 a year…“This is the cheapest and the most humane way to treat people,”

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The process of building rapport and trust with someone is so important and easily the most misunderstood step in a professional intervention. Most of us don’t hesitate to reject well intended professional advice even when we may obviously need it. But it seems strange when others do the same though. Trust takes time.


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